Where the world comes to study the Bible

Lesson 17: God’s Warnings (Genesis 7:1-24)

Related Media

A woman who works for the IRS in Utah has the job of communicating with delinquent taxpayers. On one occasion she called Anchorage and was patched through to a ham operator in the Aleutian Islands. Two hours later the ham operator raised the taxpayer’s home base and from there reached him at sea with his fishing fleet. After the woman identified herself as being with the IRS in Utah, there was a long pause. Then over the static from somewhere in the North Pacific came: “Ha! Ha! Come and get me!” (Reader’s Digest [10/82].)

Like that tax-dodger, a lot of people think that judgment will never happen. Some may be able to dodge the IRS. But no one can dodge God’s day of reckoning. But people look around and see the wicked literally getting away with murder. The unrighteous often seem to fare pretty well in this life. And so people mistakenly conclude that judgment will never happen. They mistake God’s patience and grace in delaying the day of judgment to mean that it will never take place and that they can sin without consequence. But the familiar story of the flood is given to warn us:

Because God’s judgment on the earth is a fact, we must take the means of escape He has provided.

Unfortunately, the story of Noah and the great flood is often regarded as a fairy tale, not as fact. But it is in the Bible to show that…

1. God’s judgment on the earth is a fact.

A. The flood is the past example of the fact of God’s judgment on the whole earth.

At no other point in history has God’s judgment on the earth been as severe and widespread as it was at the flood. At various times God has judged individuals, groups, and even whole nations. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when God rained fire and brimstone on them. God ordered Israel to destroy the Canaanites because of their sin. Israel itself was judged by the Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 because of rejecting the Messiah. There are many more examples in the Bible. But no other judgment in history was as widespread and severe as that of the flood. As such, the flood stands as the past example, bar none, of the fact of God’s judgment on the whole earth. Just as He judged the whole earth with the flood, so He will judge the whole earth in the end times, and none will escape.

I am going to take more of a biblical rather than a scientific approach. For our purposes, let’s look at three points:

(1) The flood was historical. While there are some difficult problems to consider, I think we must take the biblical account at face value. The text clearly presents this as an eyewitness, historical account, not as a parable or fairy tale. For example, the precise date (7:11), as Derek Kidner states, “has the mark of a plain fact well remembered; and this is borne out by the further careful notes of time in the story” (Genesis [IVP], p. 90). While the miraculous is obviously present (especially in the way God gathered the animals to Noah), there is nothing mythical about it.

Also, the New Testament clearly interprets the flood as historical. Both the apostle Peter and the Lord Jesus refer to it as an example of the way people in the end times will scoff at God’s judgment (2 Pet. 2:5; 3:3-10; Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). Either Jesus was mistaken; or He was deceptively using something He knew not to be true as if it were true; or He knew what He was talking about when He referred to Noah and the flood as historically true.

Outside of the Bible, there is the widespread evidence of flood stories in many cultures. While there are variations in the stories, as would be expected over thousands of years, the wide distribution of these stories from every continent of the world points to a common source (see Tim LaHaye and John Morris, The Ark on Ararat [Thomas Nelson], pp. 233-239).

Geologically, there is debate even among Christian scholars about the evidence for a worldwide flood. Some, such as the late Bernard Ramm, argue for a localized flood because they see a number of scientific problems with a universal flood. But there are many lines of geologic evidence which may point to a universal flood and which are not easy to explain in any other way. I cannot deal with the technical aspects of it here, but refer you to John Whitcomb and Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood (Baker, 518 pp.) if you want more detail.

Just over a century ago, the German scholar, C. F. Keil, put the scientific issue in focus when he wrote, “However impossible, therefore, scientific men may declare it to be for them to conceive of a universal flood of such a height and duration in accordance with the known laws of nature, this inability on their part does not justify any one in questioning the possibility of such an event being produced by the omnipotence of God” (Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], 1:146-147).

But, biblically the evidence for the flood as historically true is incontrovertible. Culturally, there is a massive body of independent traditions which points to a common historical event as their source. Geologically, evidence does not definitely prove the flood, but neither does it disprove it. And there is much evidence that supports the flood.

(2) The flood was universal. Not only was the flood an actual historical event; it was also universal, or worldwide. While I am inclined toward Whitcomb and Morris’s scientific arguments, I am not basing this point on geology, but on the Bible. I think the biblical evidence is clear that the flood was worldwide in scope.

For one thing, the language of the text could not be stronger in describing a flood of universal proportions. While the words “all” and “every” are sometimes used in a relative sense in the Bible, Genesis 7 uses deliberately strong, repetitive language to describe the extent of the flood. In verses 2 and 3 God says that Noah must take some of every kind of animal “to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.” That would not be necessary if the flood were only local. In verse 4, God tells Noah that He is about to blot out every living thing that He has made. Why have Noah go to all the bother of building an ark of this size if the flood was merely local? The animals could just as easily have fled the area (along with Noah and his family) and returned afterward.

Verses 11 and 12 say that the source of the flood was not only 40 days and nights of rain, but also the breaking up of the great deep. This points to massive changes in the oceans and subterranean vaults of the earth, and describes much more water than that of a local flood. Verses 19 and 20 say that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered to a depth of 15 cubits (about 23 feet, perhaps the draft of the loaded ark). (The mountains on earth before the flood were not necessarily the same as afterwards; see Whitcomb and Morris, pp. 266-270).

Then there is the time which it took for the flood waters to abate. The water prevailed upon the earth for 150 days (7:24). This means that it took 110 days after the rain stopped for the water to recede enough for the ark to touch down on Mount Ararat (8:3, 4). It took another ten weeks for the water level to go down enough for the tops of other mountains to become visible (8:5). All told, it was just over a year before it was safe for Noah and those on the ark to disembark (8:14-15). No local flood would require that much time to subside.

Verses 21 and 22 say that all animals in whose nostrils were the breath of life died. Verse 23 sums it up by saying that God blotted out every living thing from the land “from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky ... and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.” How much more plainly could you say it?

In addition, Genesis 8 implies that Noah and those with him in the ark were the only living creatures on earth after the flood (esp. 8:1, 15-17). God’s promise not to destroy the earth in this manner again (8:21-22; 9:15-16) would not be true if the flood was merely local, because there have been many severe local floods in history. Genesis 9:19 and 10:32 state that the whole earth was repopulated from Noah’s three sons. So the biblical evidence that the flood was universal is overwhelming. (See Henry Morris, The Genesis Record [Baker], pp. 199-203, 683-685, for much more biblical support.)

Thus the flood was both historical and universal. There’s a third fact to observe:

(3) The flood came suddenly, but not without warning. God had been warning that evil world for almost 1,000 years. Enoch preached against the ungodliness of his day. He named his son Methuselah, which means, “when he is dead, it [judgment] will come.” As a testimony of God’s grace and patience, Methuselah lived 969 years, longer than any other human being. Finally he died in the year of the flood. But God’s warnings were ignored.

Noah’s ark was finally finished after 120 years. People watched as the animals migrated toward the ark, two by two. Can’t you hear the people hooting, “Hey, everyone, Noah’s finally getting ready to sail!” Remember, there wasn’t a drop of rain yet. The ark sat there on dry ground. The day of the flood dawned just as every other day had. Then God closed the door of the ark, the rain began, and the earth quaked as the deeps were opened. Judgment came suddenly, but not without warning.

Why is this important? It’s important because the flood is the one great historical example of God’s future judgment for the whole earth.

B. God’s future judgment will be historical, universal, and will come suddenly, but not without warning.

Just as none escaped the judgment of the flood, so none will escape God’s coming judgment. In the flood, every person on the face of the earth had to come to terms with God, either by accepting His means of escape (the ark), or by perishing in the flood. In the coming judgment, all will appear before God’s bar of justice. Those who are protected by God’s means of escape, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be protected from that judgment. Those who have not trusted in Christ will be condemned.

It will be a historical event: God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

It will be universal: He will judge “the world”--every person who has ever lived. Those who have taken refuge in Christ will be spared, but all who are outside of Christ will appear before the Great White Throne, where those whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

It will be sudden, but not without warning. There is the warning of the Scriptures. Even many who do not read the Bible know the story of the flood, which serves as a warning to them. But over and over Jesus and others in the Bible warn of the certainty of the coming judgment.

There is the warning of those who live godly lives. Surely Noah’s life served notice on that ungodly generation that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. His obedience in the face of an almost impossible task which took 120 years stood as a testimony that they needed to repent. Even the march of the animals to the ark, obedient to their Creator’s command, bore witness to that generation that God was about to do something significant.

There is the warning of our own advancing mortality. Those in Noah’s day lived much longer than we do, but they all had one thing in common with us: they all died. As George Bernard Shaw observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of one people die.” We look in the mirror each day and see new wrinkles and increasing gray hair (or lack thereof). Our muscles and joints ache over things that used not to phase us. Our eyesight dims. We can’t hear quite as well. And I forget the last thing--oh, yes, we start to forget things. These are all warning signs that death is ahead, when we must face eternity.

Then suddenly, after all these warnings, a day will dawn for each of us that will not start any differently than any other day. But before that day is over, we will be face to face with God. Either Jesus Christ will have returned to judge the earth, or we will die and stand before God. Are you ready for that day? The Book of Revelation clearly shows that the world will be prospering right up to the final hour when judgment falls. People will be living in luxury and sensuality. Then, in one day, in one hour, God’s judgment will fall (Rev. 18:8, 10, 17, 19). To be ready, ...

2. We must take the means of escape God has provided.

The story of the flood shows us that before He brings judgment,

A. God graciously provides a means of escape from His judgment.

Noah didn’t think up the idea of the ark himself. Clearly, the ark was God’s initiative. He revealed it to Noah. He designed it and gave him the directions he needed. No human plan would have saved Noah or anyone else. They could have climbed the highest mountains; the flood went 20 feet over the tops of those mountains. There was no means of escape except the means God provided, and it was sufficient.

God’s grace is seen in not closing the door until the last possible moment. The people watched Noah working for 120 years. They watched the animals streaming in from all parts of the globe. They watched Noah and his family board the ark. The door was still open for any to come aboard. Nobody did. They watched as the Lord shut the door (Gen. 7:16). The rain started. It was too late.

Even though the door was open until the last possible moment, there is a sense in which those outside the ark had sealed their own doom years before the flood. There are very few deathbed conversions. A person fixes his mind in unbelief so that he can continue in his sinful ways. He deliberately ignores warning after warning. Perhaps he thinks that when he has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, he will repent. But by then it’s too late. God has closed the door of salvation.

In reference to the last minute conversion of the thief on the cross, one of the Puritans wisely observed, “We have one account of a deathbed repentance in order that no man need despair; we have only one, in order that no man may presume.” God’s grace does have a limit. We cannot go on and on in our sin, ignoring God’s gracious warnings, without consequence. Today is the day of salvation!

B. We must take God’s means of escape.

There was only one means of escape provided by God. It was not especially fancy or inviting: A great big box daubed with pitch. A luxury liner like the Queen Mary might have attracted a few more. A good advertising campaign, along with a few shows on board may have drummed up a bit more interest.

And there was only one door. The proud lions and the lowly lizards all entered the same way. It was very narrow and restrictive. Some of Noah’s neighbors may have said, “All that matters is that a person is sincere and tries to do the best he can. Noah’s way is just too confining.” They perished in the flood. Others urged tolerance. They said, “Noah’s message is too judgmental. We need to preach love, not judgment.” They perished in the flood.

It wasn’t enough to know about the ark. Many in Noah’s day knew about the ark, but they never got on board and they perished in the flood. It wasn’t enough to admire the ark. Many marveled at the size of the ark, but they never got on board and they perished. It wasn’t enough to intend to get on board the ark some day. There were some who had good intentions, but they were just too busy; they were lost in the flood. Others said, “I don’t want to give up my business; it’s just beginning to turn a healthy profit.” They perished in the flood. Others said, “I’ll get on board when my mate decides to come.” But their mate never decided; they perished in the flood. The only ones who were saved were those who got on board the ark before the flood.

God has ordained one means of salvation from the judgment to come: The Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners. Whether you’re wealthy or poor, moral or immoral, educated or uneducated, there is only one way to heaven, the way of the cross of Jesus Christ. He is the only means of salvation God has provided.


The question is, Have you gotten on board? That will be the only issue when God’s day of judgment comes suddenly. Are you trusting fully in Jesus Christ as your only hope of deliverance from God’s wrath? Have you left your sin, left your busy pursuits, left your business, left anything that hinders you, and come to Christ who alone can save you from the wrath to come? That is the only question which matters in the day of judgment.

God invited Noah and his family aboard the ark with the words, “Enter the ark” (7:1). The KJV puts it, “Come into the ark ....” That’s His invitation to you today. God has not yet closed the door of salvation. At the end of the Bible, after warning of the judgment to come, God’s final appeal is, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17). But lest you put it off, the Bible goes on in the next to the last verse to warn, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20). The Lord Jesus is coming to judge the earth; He invites you to come aboard before He comes to close the door. Come to Christ now!

Discussion Questions

  1. Do we under-emphasize God’s judgment? How can we properly emphasize it without sounding like “hellfire and damnation”? (Or should we sound like that?)
  2. How can we tactfully warn our friends and loved ones of judgment without being judgmental?
  3. How would you answer a critic who said that you were being an obscurantist to believe the biblical record of the flood when there is not overwhelming scientific proof?
  4. How would you answer a critic who complained that God was not fair to drown people thousands of miles from the ark who probably had no opportunity to get on board?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), History, Science, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 18: When You Feel Forgotten By God (Genesis 8:1-22)

Related Media

Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Once in a while you hear a heart-wrenching story of a child who has been abandoned by his parents. Well, thankfully, God never abandons His children. But probably you’ve felt forgotten by God at times. You prayed, but God didn’t answer. You read the Bible, but it didn’t speak to you. The trials in your life made you think that God went on vacation and forgot about you and your problems.

Noah may have felt like that after being on the ark for a while. The whole world had been destroyed by the flood. The rain had beat down in torrents upon that lonely ark for 40 days and nights. Finally, the rain stopped and the only sound was that of the water sloshing against the sides of the ark. Noah probably expected to hear from the Lord about then. But if God spoke to Noah, the Bible doesn’t report it. When God finally speaks to Noah again, telling him to come off the ark (8:15), the impression you get is that He hadn’t spoken since the last time recorded in the text, over a year before, when He told Noah to get on board (7:1).

What do you suppose Noah was thinking during all that time on the water? At times he probably felt forgotten by God. Maybe you’re there right now. You need assurance that God hasn’t forgotten you. That’s what Genesis 8 is all about. We read words of hope in verse 1: “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark.” Not just Noah, but the animals! It reminds us of Jesus’ words that the Heavenly Father’s eyes are on each sparrow, so you know that He cares for you. And while the Lord remembered Noah, we see Noah waiting patiently and obediently in the ark until God tells him to go out. Then Noah offered a sacrifice to the Lord. So the two themes of Genesis 8 are that God remembers Noah and Noah remembers God. We can apply it by saying:

Since God in faithfulness remembers us, we by faith must remember God.

The dominant theme of the chapter is that:

1. God in faithfulness remembers us.

When the text says, “God remembered Noah,” it does not imply that somehow He got busy with other things and Noah slipped from His mind for a while. Then something reminded Him and He snapped His fingers and said, “Noah! I forgot all about him down there!”

Rather, in the Bible the word is used often of God in the sense of God taking action on His promises. When God was about to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, He “remembered Abraham” and spared Lot on his behalf (Gen. 19:29). When Rachel wanted to bear children, but could not, we read that “God remembered Rachel” and she conceived (Gen. 30:22). When Israel was in bondage in Egypt, we read that “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exod. 2:24). When Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, she praised God who remembered His mercy as He had spoken to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). The penitent thief on the cross asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). In every case, the idea is the same: God remembers in the sense of taking action on His promises.

So here, God remembered Noah and those on the ark. It points to God’s faithfulness. From our point of view, it may seem that God has forgotten. Perhaps He has been silent for a long while. But He will act on our behalf in His time. He remembers. He is faithful to those who are His. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in three ways in Genesis 8: in His past salvation; in His promise of future preservation; and in His present provision.

A. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His past salvation.

God’s past salvation is seen in the ark. Noah and everyone on board the ark had been spared God’s judgment. It was not a luxury liner, but those on board were safe. As Noah and his family felt the ark come to rest on the mountain, even though God was yet silent, they knew one thing for certain--by God’s grace they had been spared His awful judgment. If you have trusted in God’s only means of salvation, the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, even if God seems silent at the moment, you can rest assured that you are safe in Jesus Christ.

A man once came to D. L. Moody and said he was worried because he didn’t feel saved. Moody asked, “Was Noah safe in the ark?” “Certainly he was,” the man replied. “Well, what made him safe, his feeling or the ark?” The man got the point. It is not our feelings that save us. Christ saves us by His sovereign grace, and if we have trusted in Christ, we know that God in faithfulness to His promise has saved us from His judgment.

When it seems like God has forgotten you, stop and think about the salvation God has granted to you in Jesus Christ. It is not based on anything in you. Noah found grace (6:8), and so has every person who has trusted Christ as Savior. John Newton, preacher and author of “Amazing Grace,” was a drunken sailor and slave trader when God saved him. He wrote a text in bold letters and put it over the mantle of his study, where he could not fail to see it: “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.” Newton wanted to remember God’s faithfulness as seen in His past salvation.

B. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His promise of future preservation.

As he came off the ark, Noah must have had some mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was grateful for God’s deliverance. But on the other hand, he must have felt a bit apprehensive. God had wiped out every other person and all other animals on the face of the earth. Noah must have thought, “What if we disobey Him? Will He wipe us out?”

But those whom God saves, He keeps. Our final preservation doesn’t depend on our grip on God, but on God’s strong grip on us (Jude 24). It doesn’t rest on our great faith, but on His great faithfulness. In 6:18, God said to Noah, “I will establish My covenant with you.” While this is the dominant theme of chapter 9, God mentions His promise here in 8:21, when He vows never again to curse the ground on account of man or to destroy every living thing as He did in the flood.

Note that God’s promise of sparing the earth from such severe judgment is not conditioned on Noah’s or anyone’s obedience. In fact, God promises to do it in spite of man’s sinfulness. The Hebrew word translated “for” (8:21, NASB) can be translated “though” (see Josh. 17:18, “though”). So God is saying, “Even though I see that man’s heart is still the same [the flood did not eradicate man’s sinful nature], I will look ahead to the atoning sacrifice of Messiah and will spare the earth and its inhabitants for Messiah’s sake.”

Aren’t you glad that your future deliverance from God’s judgment depends on God’s faithfulness, not yours? While those who truly know Christ will be growing in obedience, there isn’t a saint who has a perfect track record. Satan likes to come and say, “You claim to be a Christian? Look at your sins! How can you possibly expect God to save you?” At such times of doubt, I have to say to Satan, “I’m not trusting in my track record to commend me to God. I’m trusting in the faithfulness of the God who has said, ‘Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more’ (Heb. 10:17). I’m trusting in His Word which declares that ‘He who began a good work in [me] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6). So, Satan, if you can disprove God’s faithfulness, I’m in trouble. But if not, be gone! You have no basis to trouble me.”

Thus God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His past salvation and in His promise of future preservation of His people from judgment. But also,

C. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His present provision.

God had provided all that Noah and his family needed to survive, both on the ark and once they set foot on dry ground again. The earth again sprouted with vegetation, as seen in the olive leaf in the dove’s beak. (The olive tree can sprout even under water.) The olive leaf showed Noah that the water had greatly subsided, since olive trees grow at lower elevations than where the ark came to rest.

God’s provision is also seen in that He had instructed Noah to take seven clean animals on the ark, rather than just two. He used one of the seven for his sacrifice (8:20). But in 9:3, God ordains that man may now eat meat. Thus the clean animals provided food for the survivors of the flood until they could grow new crops and until the animals multiplied.

God’s provision is also seen in His promise (8:22) that “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” We often forget, as A. W. Pink put it, that “behind Nature’s ‘laws’ is Nature’s Lord” (Gleanings in Genesis [Moody Press], p. 113). God gives us many reminders of His faithfulness: Each new day, every changing season, and the food we eat should remind us that He is a faithful God who provides for all our needs.

Genesis 8 reminds us of the creation account in Genesis 1. In both accounts, the earth is covered with water. In Genesis 1 the Spirit moved; here God caused the wind (same Hebrew word as “Spirit”) to blow. In both accounts the dry land is separated from the waters, vegetation sprouts and the earth is prepared for man. Both chapters show us God’s gracious provision for His creatures.

Often when God is silent in our lives, it’s because He wants to bring us into a situation where He makes all things new. But sometimes He has to destroy the old before He can remake the new. But we can count on His faithfulness during the silence, knowing that He has saved us in the past, He has promised to preserve us in the future, and He is providing for us in the present. Noah clung to those assurances when God was silent for that long year in the ark. You can cling to those assurances right now, if it seems as if God has forgotten you.

So first we see God’s remembrance of Noah; we also see Noah’s remembrance of God. Since God in faithfulness remembers us,

2. We by faith must remember God.

Noah’s remembrance of God is seen in three ways in this story, ways we can imitate as we seek to remember the Lord.

A. We remember God by trusting in His salvation.

Noah obedient faith is seen in his building the ark and by getting on board when God told him to. If he hadn’t trusted God’s word by doing that, he wouldn’t have been delivered from the flood.

God has provided Jesus Christ as the “ark” which will carry you safely through the judgment to come. Just as Noah had to believe God by building the ark and getting on board, so you must believe God by “getting on board” Christ as the only One who can deliver you from God’s judgment. In the world’s eyes, the ark was Noah’s folly. But in God’s plan, that which was foolishness to the world was His means of salvation. Even so, as Paul said, “The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). If you have never by faith entrusted your eternal destiny completely to Jesus Christ, laying hold of His death in your place, you must start there.

B. We remember God by waiting patiently and obediently for God’s timing.

Once God has saved us, like young children, we want everything instantly. We want all our problems solved now. We want answers to our questions now. But God shapes us by making us learn to wait on Him. After a year in a crowded, dark, smelly ark, Noah must have had a bad case of cabin fever. But we find him patiently and obediently waiting for the Lord to give the word. God didn’t dry up the water instantly, but used the wind and other natural processes. It took time. That’s usually how God works.

Finally Noah sent out a raven. Ravens will alight on anything, no matter how foul. Perhaps it landed on carcasses floating on the water, and fed off them, but it never returned to the ark. Next Noah released the dove. Doves want a clean, dry place to land. Not finding such a place, the dove returned. Noah kept waiting. Seven days later, he tried again. This time the dove returned with an olive leaf. Noah waited seven more days. This time the dove did not return. Still Noah waited. In the 601st year of his life, on the first day of the first month, the water was dried up (8:13). Still Noah waited. Finally, on the 27th day of the second month, God told Noah to disembark (8:14-16). Only then did Noah leave the ark.

God had shut Noah in; God must bring Noah out by His command. Noah kept waiting on God even when God was apparently silent. Obedience during the silent times is the best guarantee that you’ll obey God in those critical moments which determine the course of your life. If God has shut you in to some difficulty, wait patiently and obediently upon Him to bring you out in His way and time.

Maybe God has shut you up to being single, but you want to be married. But God doesn’t seem to be listening to your prayers. If you disobey God and take matters into your own hands by dating unbelievers, you will thwart what He is trying to teach you about waiting on Him and you may miss His provision for you later. In the silent times, we must remember the Lord by waiting patiently and obediently for His timing.

C. We remember the Lord by offering a sacrifice of gratitude.

Noah got off the ark and offered a sacrifice to the Lord. You may think his action was a matter of course. But it was hardly a matter of course. Noah would have been a busy man once he set foot on dry ground again. He had to build a shelter for his family. They had to tend to the domestic animals. They had to move everything off the ark to their new homes, and there was no Bekins! And yet Noah took time to remember the Lord by building an altar and offering sacrifices.

Noah’s sacrifice showed that he still must approach God through shed blood. Noah wasn’t presuming on some new privileged relationship with God since he had survived the flood. He still knew himself to be a sinner, and he offered sacrifices as the only way he could approach a holy God. Noah’s sacrifice also was an expression of gratitude for God’s salvation. Noah knew his own heart. There was no reason God should have spared him, but He did. And so Noah expressed his thankfulness with this sacrifice.

In the same way, God wants us to remember Him by coming to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ as our only basis of approach. He wants us to reflect often on our deliverance from judgment, and to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

One of the ways God ordained for us to do that is through the Lord’s Supper (also called the “Eucharist,” from the Greek word for thanksgiving). When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we reflect on His salvation for us in the past; on His promised coming and the future salvation we will enjoy; and on the present provision He has given us for life and godliness. We remember Him and give thanks for His salvation.

Like Noah, most of us have a million other pressing things we could be doing with our time. It’s so easy to get busy with life and forget the Lord and His blessings to us. Forgetting, we grow ungrateful. And ungratefulness leads us away from God. We must guard against thankless hearts by regularly setting aside time in our busy schedules to remember the Lord and the great salvation He has granted us. Since God in faithfulness has remembered us, we by faith must remember Him.


At times we’ve all felt abandoned by God. The nation Israel felt that way. Isaiah wrote, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’” But God answers, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:14-15). God remembers His children. Even when He seems to have forgotten us, we, His children, can rest on His faithful Word and obediently remember Him.

Frances Havergal, the hymn writer, could have felt forgotten by God. She died in her early forties. On the last day of her life, she asked a friend to read Isaiah 42 to her. When the friend read the sixth verse, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee,” Miss Havergal stopped her. She whispered, “Called; held; kept. I can go home on that!” And she did go home on that, resting in the faithful remembrance of her God. One of her best loved songs is, “Like a River Glorious.” The third verse reads,

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Trac’d upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

It was true for her; it has been true of every one of God’s elect, whom He has faithfully remembered. If you know Christ, it is true of you, even when God seems to forget you. You can trust Him and find Him wholly true.

Discussion Questions

  1. Tell of a time when you felt forgotten by God. What did you learn?
  2. Why does God make us wait on Him? How can we know whether God is telling us “no” or “wait”?
  3. What would you say to a person who felt that God was unfaithful because He did not answer prayers to heal a loved one?
  4. How can we build more gratitude into our lives?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Faith, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 19: The Sanctity of Human Life (Genesis 9:1-7)

Related Media

In 1994, a 16 year-old Philadelphia youth tried to extort money from an ice cream truck driver. When the driver refused, the boy shot him. As this father of three lay dying, the neighborhood teenagers gathered around and mocked his agony in a rap song they composed, “They killed Mr. Softee.” A fellow ice cream truck driver and friend of the dying man came on the scene shortly after the shooting. He told reporters, “It wasn’t human. People were laughing and asking me for ice cream. I was crying.... They were acting as though a cat had died, not a human being.”

We live in a day when human life is no longer regarded as sacred. The devaluing of life is spreading not only through violence in the ghettos, but also through abortion on demand, which results in the deaths of 1.5 million babies in America each year. On the other end of life, the push for euthanasia is further eroding the sanctity of human life.

All of these problems stem from the erosion of the Bible as the standard for truth in our society. If you throw out the Bible and accept evolution, then man is just an animal and there is no basis for human morality, other than cultural norms. Without the Bible, there is no basis for affirming that humans are created in the image of God and that human life is thus sacred. For the survival of our nation and culture, we desperately need to understand and proclaim the biblical truth regarding the sanctity of human life.

When Noah and his family emerged from the ark, all human and animal life, except for that on the ark, had been destroyed. It was a new beginning for the human race which God had judged because of its corruption and violence (6:11-13). It is significant that one of the first things God affirmed to Noah was the sanctity of human life. God wanted to establish a foundation for the proper view of human life before the earth was repopulated. Our text shows that ...

Since God values human life, so must we.

God blessed Noah and his sons (9:1). God’s blessing here provided for the propagation, priority, and protection of human life. Verses 1 and 7 show that human life is to be propagated to promote God’s purposes on the earth. Verses 2-4 show that human life has priority over animal life. And verses 5 and 6 ordain that human life is to be protected through capital punishment for murder. These verses raise some controversial issues. I encourage you to wrestle with the totality of Scripture in arriving at your conclusions.

1. Since God values human life, He ordained it to be propagated to promote His purposes (9:1, 7).

In Genesis 1:28, God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This blessing involved their raising godly offspring who would be stewards for God on earth. Here, starting over after the flood, God repeats the blessing for Noah and his sons. Godly families are at the heart of what God is doing on this earth, because it is in this context that children are loved, come to know God, and are trained in His ways. Thus God ordained the propagation of the human race through families to promote His purposes.

These verses raise the question: What about birth control? The text seems to say (and many sincere Christians take it to mean) that God’s people should have as many children as possible. How you apply this can greatly affect your life!

First, we need to understand that Genesis 9:1 & 7, although they sound like commands, are really a form of God’s blessing. God is saying, “May you be fruitful and fill the earth.” Even though He had just wiped out everyone on earth because of their sin, God is reaffirming human life by giving this blessing to Noah and his sons. This blessing was given (both here and in Genesis 1) when the world was not populated. Now that the world is not in need of increased population and birth control is a medical option, it can be argued that we need prayerfully to plan how many such blessings we produce!

Some argue, “If children are blessings, then why not have all the blessings God will give us?” But we obviously limit other blessings God gives, such as food, sleep, material possessions, and leisure pursuits. Since the Bible requires us to provide for our children (1 Tim. 5:8 is primarily financial, but can include the emotional and spiritual), we must consider our ability to do so.

Some also argue that to use birth control is to usurp God’s sovereignty and play God. But modern medicine gives us many theologically staggering options that didn’t exist a few years ago. Although God has sovereignly ordained how long we live, most of us don’t hesitate to use medicine to extend our lives if we have the option. The same applies to birth control. God has sovereignly ordained how many children we have, but perhaps birth control is the means He ordained of arriving at that number!

We need to distinguish between preventing conception and destroying life once conception has occurred. Before conception, no new life is involved. But once conception occurs, a new human life has been formed. It only requires time and nurture to become what all of us are. This means that certain types of birth control are immoral. Obviously abortion is unacceptable. But so are any methods which allow conception to take place but prevent implantation. They are really forms of abortion. Any form of birth control that destroys a developing human being is unacceptable for Christians.

Since no method of contraception (except abstinence) is totally effective (I know some who had children after supposedly being sterilized), any couple who chooses to have sex must accept the possible responsibility of conceiving children. This is one reason why sex must be reserved for marriage. If you choose to have sex and that choice results in the conception of a child, you’ve both (father and mother) just incurred a serious responsibility before God! To abort that child is to shed innocent human blood, which God condemns (9:6). So sex must be reserved for marriage, and a couple should not marry until they are able to accept the possible responsibility of children.

A main factor in determining whether or not to have children is to examine our motives. If we use birth control because children would interfere with our upwardly mobile life style, we’re living for self and pleasure, not for God. We must adopt God’s view of children, that they are a blessing (Gen. 9:1; Ps. 127:3-5) and reject the common worldly view, that children are a burden and a hindrance to personal pursuits. There is no question that children are a responsibility and that they interfere with my life style! But God uses my children to teach me how selfish I am and to show me the need to crucify my flesh and live under the lordship of Christ. Worldly, selfish motives are not a good basis for choosing not to have children.

Sometimes, I might add, people want to have children for selfish reasons. A couple may think that a child will shore up their shaky marriage. Perhaps the husband thinks that a baby will get his wife off his back, so he can selfishly do whatever he wants. Sometimes people want children to receive the love and attention they missed as a child. So they desperately try to meet their own emotional needs through their children, and are devastated when the children leave home. So we must examine our motives both for wanting to have children and for not wanting children.

There are some other factors to consider. The Bible’s command to provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8) includes finances, but also extends to emotional and spiritual provision. Concerning finances, we don’t need to provide designer clothes and a Harvard education, but we do need to consider meeting basic needs. The physical health of both mother and father may be a consideration. Also, some women may thrive in mothering ten children (they love chaos and noise!), while others in terms of their personalities and abilities could provide well for two or three children, but a houseful would push them over the brink.

A final factor to consider is that the Bible teaches that marriage and sex in marriage have other legitimate purposes besides procreation. Marriage is for companionship and God designed the sexual union both for intimacy and pleasure. It’s a deterrent to sexual temptation. Therefore, I believe that a Christian married couple may responsibly use a method of preventing conception (not abortion) if they’ve prayerfully and carefully weighed their motives so that their decision is not based upon selfishness, materialism, or worldly attitudes toward children.

Don’t forget the point we began with, that human life is to be propagated to promote God’s purposes. This means that most Christian couples should want to have as many children as they can care for, to see those children raised to love and serve Jesus Christ. While some children may not be planned, for Christians all children should be valued and loved since they are God’s gift.

2. Since God values human life, He ordained it to take priority over animal life (9:2-4).

God put the fear of man on wild animals and put all animal life under man’s control. He also gave permission for man to eat meat. Before the flood, man and animals may have been vegetarian (see 1:29-30). But now man is given meat for sustenance. Some may choose to be vegetarian for health reasons, but there is nothing more spiritual about not eating meat.

God ordains that man may not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood (9:4). This pointed ahead to the sacrificial system God would ordain under Moses: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11). God requires that the soul that sins shall die. But He has graciously made provision through the shed blood of an acceptable substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, so that all who trust in Christ’s death on their behalf do not have to face judgment.

Another lesson of these verses is that God made animals to serve people, not people to serve animals. Certainly we should protect animals from wanton destruction and be kind to animals (Prov. 12:10). But animals are given to serve us, not vice versa. In our day, the animal rights movement has often put saving animals above saving people. It’s ironic that those who advocate saving baby seals also often advocate destroying human babies through abortion. And while I don’t mean to disrespect a people, the Hindu religion with its sacred cows, is a pathetic example of people serving animals, when those very animals were given by God to feed hungry people.

Thus after the flood, God reestablished the value of human life by ordaining that it should be propagated to promote His purposes and that human life is to take priority over animal life.

3. Since God values human life, He ordained it to be protected through capital punishment (9:5-6).

God here ordains human government. In delegating authority to man over the highest good that man has, namely, life, God implicitly gave authority over lesser things as well. Government is given by God to check man’s sin and to protect man from himself. God is saying that because man is created in God’s image (though that image is marred by the fall) human life is valuable. Thus one who murders another person must pay the ultimate penalty by forfeiting his own life in exchange.

The value we place on something is reflected by what we will give in exchange for it. If I give $10,000 for a car, it shows that I think that car is valuable enough to exchange the necessary labor and time it takes me to earn that amount of money. If I take your life and our society says that I must spend seven years in prison at taxpayer expense, it reflects the value society puts on human life, which in our day doesn’t seem to be very much.

In all fairness, I must say that not all evangelical Christians agree on capital punishment. Some argue that it has been replaced by Christ’s ethic of love for our enemies. We are not to take vengeance. It is barbaric and brutal to kill a killer. To take a man’s life is to deny him the opportunity to repent. Or if he has repented, to take his life is to kill a brother in Christ.

Also, for which crimes is capital punishment to be mandated? In the law of Moses, the death penalty was prescribed for many crimes other than premeditated murder, including fornication, adultery, rape (Deut. 22:13-27), and homosexuality (Lev. 20:13); hitting, cursing, or rebelling against one’s parents (Exod. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18-21); cursing God (Lev. 24:10-16); and, sabbath-breaking (Num. 15:32-36). Most of us would be dead!

Christians who oppose capital punishment also point out that God didn’t always carry it out, even for murderers, such as Cain, Moses, and David. Jesus urged leniency for the woman caught in adultery, even though the law mandated death. Apart from the Bible, it is argued that the death penalty is not a deterrent, and that it is unfairly applied in our country. Also, what if a mistake is made and an innocent person is executed? For these reasons many Christians are opposed to capital punishment.

While we need to consider these points, I still think that capital punishment is to be used by governments as a means of protecting the value of human life. God says that even an animal that kills a person must pay with its life (9:5; see Exod. 21:28-32). Genesis 9:5-6 clearly shows that God highly values human life; so must we, by imposing the death penalty for murder.

The New Testament also upholds the authority of governments to impose the death penalty. In Romans 13:1-4, Paul, living under Nero’s violent reign, argues that Christians must be subject to the governing authorities, because they are ordained by God to avenge wrongs and bring wrath, including the sword, upon the one who practices evil. Paul himself told Festus that if he had done anything worthy of death, he was willing to die for his crimes (Acts 25:11).

What about the arguments raised against capital punishment? Concerning love and compassion for our enemies, we need to distinguish between personal and governmental actions. If you followed that logic to its conclusion, you couldn’t punish any criminal: “Let them all go, because we’ve got to show compassion.” But what about compassion and love for the victims and their families? Concerning vengeance, personal vengeance is wrong, but the whole point of government is to replace vengeance with justice and due punishment. Just and proportionate punishment provides a foundation of ethical responsibility that gives moral significance to human actions. If you take away the death penalty, murdering someone becomes insignificant.

When opponents of capital punishment say that it is barbaric, I say, “The murderer was the barbaric one.” He killed a person innocent of breaking the law, whereas the state is killing a guilty person to uphold the law. Not to make that distinction leads to the breakdown of the principle of law and justice.

Concerning the opportunity for the murderer to repent, you could argue that a man is more likely to repent if he faces execution. But I don’t see this argument as valid either way. It is sad if a truly repentant man is executed, and such factors may need to be taken into account. But God doesn’t always remove the consequences for sin, even though He forgives the sinner.

Which crimes should be capital offenses? At least first degree murder ought to be in order to uphold the value of human life. I would favor either executing or castrating repeat offenders of rape and child molesting, but I can’t defend that biblically. Concerning the matter that capital punishment was unevenly applied in the Old Testament, you don’t build a system of justice on the exceptions. Cain and David deserved to die but were shown exceptional mercy. Moses’ murder of the Egyptian could be argued to be in defense of another person. God is concerned about justice, and the death penalty should be applied evenly (not along racial lines) after a fair trial and convincing guilt.

Whether the death penalty is a deterrent or not is beside the point. If it were carried out uniformly and swiftly, I think it would be a deterrent (Deut. 21:21; Eccl. 8:11). It at least would deter the murderer from doing it again! There is always the risk that an innocent man will be executed. For that reason, proper judicial procedures must always be followed, and if there is even slight doubt, the person must not die. But we need to think about this rationally, not emotionally. Many decisions made by government leaders affect lives. A budget decision for research on disease means that some people will live and some will die. A decision to build a skyscraper or dam means that some probably will die during construction. On rare occasions a few innocent people may be killed by capital punishment, but many more innocent people would be killed by murderers who were allowed to live without capital punishment.

You’ll have to think it through biblically. My conclusion is that the arguments against capital punishment are not persuasive enough to overturn the clear teaching of Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13. It’s necessary to uphold the sanctity of human life.


While it’s important to think biblically about these matters, I don’t want this message to be theoretical. What can you do to affirm the sanctity of human life?

Some of you should get involved in the pro-life movement. We need an evangelical pro-life pregnancy counseling center in Flagstaff. We all should vote for pro-life candidates and write letters to legislators and to newspapers defending the unborn. Vote against judges and legislators who are soft on crime. And pray! It’s a spiritual battle. Pray for government authorities. Pray for justice to be carried out in our land. With prayer and obedience, we can see the sanctity of human life restored in our country.

I want to say a final word to anyone who may have had an abortion or who counseled someone else to do so. You may have done this in ignorance and now you realize how wrong your action was in the sight of God, who values human life. God takes all sin seriously, as His judgment in the flood shows. But He also is gracious and forgiving to all who will turn from their sin and seek Him. Even murderers have found grace at His throne. Through Christ’s death, God can maintain His justice (because Christ paid the penalty), but also His love (by extending a free pardon to all who will accept it). No matter how great your guilt, God’s grace is greater. Right now you can receive the gift of forgiveness He offers you in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have Christians bought into the world’s view concerning family planning? Are there other biblical factors (than those mentioned in the message) which need to be considered?
  2. Discuss the pros and cons: Should Christians ever use sterilization as a means of birth control?
  3. Is hunting permitted or forbidden by Scripture? What about medical research on animals?
  4. Where do you stand on capital punishment? Why? Should mercy (a reprieve) ever be extended to a convicted murderer?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Law

Lesson 20: Assurance From God (Genesis 9:8-17)

Related Media

If you have gone through a traumatic experience, afterward you probably struggled with anxiety about whether it would happen again. After Marla and I were mugged at gunpoint outside our apartment in Dallas, there was not a night when I came home that I did not think about the possibility of a gunman waiting to get me. Even now I am much more observant of suspicious looking characters when I am out after dark. I don’t want the same thing to happen again.

Of course, we can’t guarantee that traumatic events will not recur. I may get mugged again. If you’ve been in a bad accident, it could happen again. Life is uncertain in these matters. But there is a most important traumatic event in the future where we can be certain about the outcome. That event is God’s judgment, when we all must stand before Him. We all must soberly face the questions: Will God judge me for my sins? Should I fear God’s judgment?

It’s crucial that we answer these questions carefully based on God’s Word of truth. There are many who do not fear God’s judgment who ought to be greatly troubled by it. But there are others who fear God’s judgment who need assurance from God that their sins are forgiven and that they will not be condemned when they stand before Him. It is to these people that our text gives a word of assurance.

More than anyone who has ever lived, Noah needed God’s assurance concerning future judgment. He had just come through the most devastating, widespread judgment God has ever inflicted on the human race. Everyone on earth, except Noah and his family, had been destroyed in the flood. All animal life, except that on the ark, died. We can barely imagine the feelings of horror and anxiety which swept over Noah and his family as they emerged from the ark as the sole survivors on the planet. Everyone they knew before was gone. Every time they started to say, “Let’s go see so-and-so,” they stopped mid-sentence. So-and--so wasn’t there any more.

Imagine the terror they would have felt when they heard thunder and saw storm clouds forming. Every little rainstorm could make their stomachs churn. What if the rain doesn’t stop? What if God destroys us this time? Should we even bother to build homes and plant crops, or will God wipe out everything again? These questions must have been plaguing their minds. Noah and his family needed to know, “Is God going to judge us?”

Anxious people need assurance, and they need to hear it over and over. God graciously repeats Himself (“covenant” occurs 7 times in 9:8-17), so that Noah and his family will not only hear the message, but also feel it. He promises never to destroy the earth again by a flood (9:11, 15). God’s promise to Noah was not a spiritual promise, since it concerned the physical destruction of the earth. But it points ahead to the spiritual promise He makes to us in Christ:

Because God is faithful to His promises, believers can have assurance of deliverance from His judgment.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). We don’t have to live in anxiety about past sins. We can know with certainty that our deliverance from judgment is based on God’s faithfulness to the promises of His Word.

Lucy and Linus were looking out the window at a steady downpour. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?” “It will never do that,” Linus replies confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” “You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” says Lucy with a relieved smile. “Sound theology,” Linus affirms, “has a way of doing that!” Let’s look at the theology stemming from God’s promise to Noah.

1. God is faithful to His promises.

A. God’s promise to Noah: Never to destroy the earth again by a flood.

God has kept that promise now for over 4,000 years! The word “covenant” used here is an important word in the Bible. There are different covenants which God made with people. But the idea is always the same. A covenant is “a pledged and defined relationship” (Herbert M. Carson, Basic Christian Doctrines [Baker, 1962], ed. by Carl Henry, p. 117). God pledges to do certain things in a defined relationship of responsibility toward certain people. Note the following aspects of God’s covenant with Noah:

(1) It was unilateral. God took the sole initiative. Noah didn’t think this up. He didn’t negotiate with God. God originated this covenant and announced its terms to Noah. All of God’s covenants are that way. He is sovereign. He determines what He will do in accordance with the counsel of His own will. We cannot come to God and try to bargain. In Hong Kong, you can sometimes bargain with the shop owners. But some of them have signs that say, “Fixed price.” That means no bargaining. Don’t waste your time! God’s covenants with man are that way. He fixes the terms and announces what they will be.

(2) It was eternal (9:12, 16). God knows His plan from the beginning and carries it out exactly as He promises. While men may disobey and seemingly thwart God’s purposes, His promises will be fulfilled. The Lord promises never again to destroy the world by a flood. This does not mean that God will never again judge the ungodly and destroy the earth. We would err seriously to think that! But it will remain in effect until the Lord returns (2 Pet. 3:4-7, 10).

(3) It was universal (9:9-11). It even included the animals! God’s blessings of protection from the judgment of a universal flood extend to every living thing. While there have been local floods that have killed many people and animals, there has never been a flood of such proportions as the one in Noah’s day. (This promise, by the way, is a strong biblical evidence that the flood was not just local.)

Every person who has ever lived has had opportunity to observe God’s mercy through the creation, even in God’s care for the animals. As Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

(4) It was unconditional. God does not say that the promise will be revoked if men reach the same levels of sin as they did before. The Mosaic covenant was conditional. It depended on the obedience of the nation Israel. If they didn’t obey, God would not keep His part of the deal, to bless them (Deut. 28). But the covenant with Noah was not dependent on Noah’s or anyone else’s obedience. It depended solely on God’s word to Noah.

God’s covenant with Noah reveals His abundant grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward those who deserve His judgment. If God acted on the basis of what we deserve, the human race would have perished centuries ago. Do you ever think about what God must see as He looks upon the earth? Sometimes when I read the crud in the newspaper, I feel overwhelmed with the corruption of this evil world. But God sees it all, and yet He withholds His judgment, graciously offering forgiveness to sinners. What amazing grace! Though the day of judgment is coming soon, today is still the day of salvation, when God offers a free pardon to every sinner who will take it.

(5) It was confirmed by a sign (9:12-17). Some think the rainbow first appears here; others think that God is giving new significance to something Noah already knew about. If there had been a cloud canopy over the earth before the flood, and it had not rained, but rather the earth had been watered by a mist coming up from the ground (Gen. 2:5-6), then it’s reasonable to think that now, with the climatic changes after the flood, a rainbow appeared for the first time. One commentator suggests that up to verse 17, God was speaking to Noah, but Noah didn’t know what God meant by a rainbow. But then God spread a beautiful rainbow across the sky, and while Noah was gasping in awe, God said, “This is the sign of the covenant ....”

God’s sign of the rainbow was both gracious and appropriate. God put the sign in the clouds, where Noah and his family would have looked with fear when the storms came. The same water which destroyed the earth now causes the rainbow. Arising, as it does, from the conjunction of the sun and the storm, it points to God’s mercy breaking through even in His judgment. Coming at the end of the storm, it shows that the storm of God’s wrath is past.

Franz Delitzsch insightfully wrote, “As [the rainbow] shines forth against a dark background which but shortly before flashed with lightnings, it symbolizes the victory of bright, gentle love over the darkly luminous wrath; growing as it does out of the interaction of sun and dark clouds, it symbolizes the readiness of the heavenly to interpenetrate the earthly; extending from heaven to earth, it proclaims peace between God and man; reaching, as it does, beyond the range of vision, it declares that God’s covenant of grace is all-embracing” (in H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis [Baker], p. 340).

Just as there is nothing quite as beautiful and breathtaking as a rainbow, so there is nothing as glorious and beautiful as the many splendored grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10). Just as a rainbow allows us to see the various facets of pure, white light, so God’s grace enables us to see Him who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:16). Even if man forgets the meaning of the rainbow, God says that He will look at it and remember His covenant (Gen. 9:16).

I think that science sometimes robs us of appreciating God’s revelation through His creation. It’s like a chemist doing an analysis of the chemical elements in a piece of strawberry pie. I suppose there’s a place for that, but the main thing with strawberry pie is, “Taste it!” You can explain a rainbow as a refraction of light, but the main thing is, enjoy its beauty and remember the meaning God assigns it, that He is faithful to His promises on our behalf!

There are many parallels, and a few differences, between God’s promise to Noah and His promises to us in Christ:

B. God’s promise in Christ: To deliver all who trust in Him.

Just as God destroyed the world through the flood, and the only ones saved were those in the ark, so He has said that He will yet destroy the world through fire and only those who are in Christ will be saved (2 Pet. 3:4-7, 10). Jesus instituted the New Covenant in His blood, through which He promised to deliver all who trust in Him.

(1) It is unilateral. It stems completely from God. He initiated it, He laid down the stipulations of it. It’s not up for debate if you don’t like it. It stems from God’s grace toward those who deserve His wrath. God owes us nothing. The only merit is the merit of Christ. Many people miss God’s offer of salvation because they insist on coming to God on their own merit. But we can’t come to God until we realize that He has done it all. We can only receive as a gift what He has done. We can’t bargain with God based on our good works.

(2) It is eternal. The author to the Hebrews argues that Christ’s blood obtained “eternal redemption” (Heb. 5:9; 9:12). We don’t have to fear that God will change the terms of the covenant at some point in the future. When Jesus from the cross said, “It is finished,” He meant that His work of redemption completely paid the penalty for our sins. There is nothing to be added to what He did there. It is accomplished and established forever.

(3) It is universal. That is, it is available to all who will believe in Jesus Christ. It excludes no race; Christ purchased for God with His blood those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). None will be excluded from God’s covenant because their sin was too great (1 Tim. 1:15-16).

(4) It is conditioned on faith in Jesus Christ. God’s covenant with Noah applies to everyone, apart from their faith. It even applies to all the animals. But God’s new covenant in Christ applies only to those who put their trust in Him as Savior. Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). John writes, “... whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition of the new covenant.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “I don’t have faith in Christ. How do I get it?” Faith is not something we work up. If it were, we could boast in our faith. Faith is something God imparts to the seeking heart as you hear the truth about God as revealed in His Word. Faith doesn’t focus on itself, but on God who is totally dependable. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Since Jesus is both the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), ask Him to give you the faith you need for salvation.

(5) Its sign is the Lord’s Supper. When the Lord, on the night He was betrayed, offered the bread and the wine, He said that the cup was the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). Just as Noah could look at the rainbow and know that God’s judgment was past, so we can contemplate the emblems of the Lord’s Supper and know that His judgment for us is past. The storm is over; Christ bore the flood of God’s wrath for us, and gave us a sign to assure us. If you wrestle with recurring guilt over past sins, come often to the Lord’s Table. It is the sign God has given to us in Christ that there will be no more judgment. Thus,

2. Believers can have assurance of deliverance from God’s judgment.

God binds Himself by His covenant and lays down the terms of His relationship to man. It is for us simply to receive it and act upon it. Notice how repeatedly God emphasizes to Noah that it is He, God, who is making the covenant:

“I Myself do establish My covenant with you” (9:9); “And I establish My covenant with you” (9:11); “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you” (9:12); “... My bow ... shall be for a sign of a covenant” (9:13); “I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you” (9:15); “I will look upon it [the rainbow], to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature” (9:16); “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh” (9:17).

Over and over God drives home the point so that Noah can be assured, not based on his feelings, but on God’s sure word. And yet God wanted Noah to get beyond the intellectual level to the feeling level, so that, based on his faith, Noah would know in his heart that God’s judgment was past. Noah’s trust in God would have been strengthened from these words repeated by God.

God wants us to know that we have eternal life if we have believed in Christ. It is not based on our feelings, but on the sure word of the Lord, who has said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

If we believe God’s promise, we can have His assurance in our hearts. It is based on believing God’s Word, but it ought to go beyond intellectual assent, down to the depths of our hearts. God wants us to feel assured of forgiveness in Christ, based on His sure word of promise.


Just as the Lord graciously repeated Himself over and over to Noah to assure his trembling heart, so He reaffirms His grace and mercy to us in Christ over and over. Just as God gave Noah (and us) the repeated sign of the rainbow to tell us that the storm of His wrath is over, so He tells us to observe the Lord’s Supper often, where we see the sign of peace, the communion elements, which tell us that Christ bore the storm of His wrath. We need not fear God’s judgment if we are safe in Christ. Perhaps some past sins keep plaguing you with doubts about your standing before God. He wants you to know that if you have trusted in Christ, He has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. “As many as may be the promises of God, in [Christ] they are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20).

Donald Grey Barnhouse (Let Me Illustrate [Revell, 1967], pp. 253-254) tells of a French woman during World War I who was going through a time of great trial. Barnhouse had led this woman to Christ, and had introduced to her the idea of a promise box. It was a small box kept on the kitchen table in which were about 200 tiny rolls of paper, each with a Bible promise written on it.

During this time, the war was raging and this woman had no food for her children, except scraps of potato peelings from a nearby restaurant. Their clothes were in rags and their shoes were worn with holes. In a moment of desperation, she remembered the promise box and cried out, “Lord, O Lord, I have such a great need. Is there a promise here that is really for me? Show me, O Lord, what promise I can have in this time of famine, nakedness, peril, and the sword.” She was crying by this time, and as she reached for the promise box, blinded by tears, she accidentally knocked it over and all the promises came showering down around her, on her lap and on the floor. Not one was left in the box. Suddenly she was flooded with joy in the Lord as she realized that the promises of God were all for her, and that they were all yes in Jesus Christ.

Whatever your situation, God’s promises are yes for you in Christ. Do you need to know that your sins are forgiven? God says yes in Christ. Do you need assurance that you are God’s child? God says yes in Christ. Do you need peace in your heart? God says yes in Christ. Because God is faithful to His promises, you can have assurance of deliverance from His judgment if you have put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important not only to know (intellectually) that you’re forgiven, but to feel it?
  2. How would you answer the person who said that if we emphasize God’s grace, people will take advantage of it to go on in sin?
  3. Is it ever legitimate or healthy to doubt one’s salvation? If so, when? What Scriptures apply?
  4. Is assurance of salvation something we should grow into, or a basic fact to be believed?
  5. Is there a difference between not fearing God’s judgment and not taking it seriously? (Consider 2 Cor. 5:10-11.)

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Faith

Lesson 21: A Good Man’s Sin (Genesis 9:18-29)

Related Media

It’s always shocking and sad when a good man sins. When I hear of a Christian leader who has fallen, my initial response is usually, “I can’t believe it! How could it happen?” Somehow I want to believe that if a man has walked with God for years, he builds up an immunity against sin. I want to hope that if I walk with God long enough, the day will come when temptation automatically glances off me.

But it just ain’t so! After walking closely with God for years, George Muller used to pray, “Lord, don’t let me become a wicked old man.” When I first read that years ago, I thought, “There’s not a chance!” But I’ve come to understand his prayer. There isn’t one of us, I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian, who doesn’t face the constant struggle against sin. You never become invulnerable.

Noah is “Exhibit A.” He had walked with God for over 600 years! In a wicked world, Noah stood alone for God. He was the only man on earth whom God saw fit to save from the judgment of the flood. The opportunity to launch a new beginning for the human race stood before him. And what happened? He got drunk and uncovered himself within his tent. Shocking! Disgraceful! Unbelievable! Is this the same Noah?

Some have tried to exonerate Noah by arguing that he didn’t know about fermentation, and got drunk accidentally. Other explanations have been suggested. But since drunkenness and nakedness are always presented in the Bible in a shameful light, we must conclude that Noah sinned. Noah’s sin shows us that ...

1. Even the most godly are prone to sin.

If you condemn Noah, saying to yourself, “How could he do that?” you don’t know your own heart. When it comes to godliness, Noah was top of the line. He was the most righteous man on the earth before the flood. Centuries later, through Ezekiel, God listed Noah, Daniel, and Job as three of the most righteous men in history (Ezek. 14:20)! And yet Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

Past godliness doesn’t guarantee future godliness. You don’t build up an immunity toward sin. Neither age nor maturity provide protection against temptation. We must walk in dependence upon the Lord daily.

Noah’s sin also teaches us that we are often the most vulnerable when the pressure is off. When he was surrounded by wickedness, Noah lived righteously. But when the storm was over and he and his family were the only ones on earth, Noah fell into sin. When the pressure is off, our guard comes down. Constant vigilance is the price of victory over sin. Those who live righteously before God know their own propensity toward sin and live in constant dependence upon the Lord.

Ham, Noah’s son, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers. They carefully covered up their father. When Noah awoke, he knew what Ham had done to him and utters a curse, not against Ham, but against Ham’s son, Canaan. This raises many questions: What did Ham do? Was it all that serious? If so, why wasn’t he punished? Why is Canaan cursed for his father’s sin? Why wasn’t Noah punished, since he’s the one who started it all?

These questions have sent commentators scrambling for answers. Some say that Ham’s seeing his father’s nakedness is a euphemism for more serious sin, perhaps sexual abuse. Others say that he had sexual intercourse with Noah’s wife and that Canaan was cursed because he was the fruit of that union. The problem with these views is, the text says that Noah uncovered himself, but when the Bible talks of sexual violation, it uses the phrase to uncover someone else’s nakedness (see Leviticus 18 & 20).

So the most likely answer to the question, “What did Ham do?” is that he looked upon his father’s nakedness, either with lust or with delight and amusement. He went and told his brothers, not in a spirit of grief and concern, but with the attitude, “Hey, do you guys want to see something funny?” His flippancy toward his father’s nakedness revealed two things about Ham: He had no shame and grief toward moral failure; and, he disrespected his father, whose honor he was quick to trample on. The text gives great detail of how the other two brothers carefully walked backward so as not to gaze on their father’s nakedness as they covered him (9:23). This accentuates their sensitivity and reverence in contrast to the brazenness of their brother.

In our morally loose culture, we’re probably more likely to be puzzled by Shem and Japheth’s actions than to be shocked by what Ham did. We shrug our shoulders and ask, “What’s the big deal? So he saw his father’s nakedness?” It is precisely this reaction that shows us what we need to learn from this text:

2. We all easily become calloused toward sin.

Really, don’t you think, “What’s the big deal?” Ham just looks on his father’s nakedness and his own son and his descendants get cursed. That seems a bit extreme, not to mention unfair! But it seems to me that our attitude reveals our own callousness toward sin. We are so used to having moral filth dumped into our living rooms every night through the 21 inch sewer line (TV) that we don’t even know it when we see it. Even worse, we find humor in it when we should be horrified.

I’ve never watched the current most popular TV shows such as “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and “NYPD Blue.” But I have read descriptions of such shows in the American Family Association Journal, and even the descriptions are too gross to share from the pulpit. These shows (and many more) are raw filth! I’m going to make a statement that may step on some toes, but I stand behind it: If you watch such filth, you will not become a godly person! I used to paint houses, and after a few hours, I couldn’t smell the paint. Surrounded by the stench of sin, after a while we don’t notice it. The only way to grow more sensitive to sin is to be in the Word daily and to avoid exposing yourself needlessly to the evil around us (Rom. 16:19).

Ham’s sin shows us that sins which don’t seem big at the time can have far-reaching consequences, not only for ourselves, but for our descendants. A trickle of sin in a parent can become a flood in his descendants. Noah’s drunkenness and impropriety led to Ham’s irreverence. Ham’s sin led eventually to the corruption of the Canaanites, who practiced orgiastic, sensual worship, cult prostitution, and homosexuality.

But what of the problem of Canaan being cursed for Ham’s sin? Several things can be said. First, like it or not, we must recognize that the sins of parents do affect their children and grandchildren, sometimes for many generations. Some think that this is unfair, so they reject God. But taking God out of the picture doesn’t solve the problem. It is an observable fact of life, whether you believe in God or not. Even if you take God out of the picture, you still have the unfair fact that some children are loved, while others are abused. Some children are cared for, while others are neglected. Kids often suffer because of their parents’ self-centered, sinful lives. It’s only when you put God into the picture that there’s any hope, because through the gospel those children have a chance to break out of the cycle of abuse and to raise their children properly.

Second, we need to see that Noah’s words are more of a prophecy than a curse. Noah is giving a thumbnail sketch of the course of world history through his sons. He may have based his prophecy in part on character traits he had already observed in his grandson. But beyond that he is speaking an oracle under the inspiration of God, predicting the course of nations, not of an individual. He is not putting a “hex” on his grandson, so that Canaan could not help himself. Nor is he fixing the fate of every person descended from Canaan, as if individuals could not escape the curse. Rather, he is predicting that Canaan’s descendants would serve the descendants of Shem and Japheth.

Contrary to what some have taught, the black race is not descended from Canaan. His descendants were those peoples dwelling in the land of Canaan when Israel conquered the land under Joshua. The prophecy was fulfilled under Joshua and Solomon, both of whom put Canaan’s descendants in forced service to Israel (Josh. 9:23; 1 Kings 9:20-21), and later when the Romans (descendants of Japheth) defeated the Phoenicians (descendants of Canaan) at Carthage (146 B.C.).

Also, to understand this curse on Canaan, we need to remember that the Canaanites were not innocent people who unjustly suffered under a curse imposed on their ancestor. They were a morally corrupt people whose sin far exceeded that of their ancestor. While God sovereignly ordains all things, people are accountable for their own sin. When God ordered Moses to kill all the people dwelling in the land of Canaan (which Israel never fully carried out), it was God’s judgment on their gross, unrepentant sin (Gen. 15:16). They were not innocent victims.

Finally, it helps us understand this difficult passage if we fit it into Moses’ theological purpose in writing Genesis. Moses was writing to a stubborn, disobedient people who were inclined to return to bondage in Egypt rather than to conquer the land of Canaan. He was about to die and would not be leading them into the land. He wrote the Pentateuch to show Israel God’s pattern of blessing on those who obey Him and cursing on those who disobey. He wanted to motivate Israel to endure whatever hardship was necessary to take the land and to keep themselves from the moral contamination of the Canaanites.

Note that our section starts off by mentioning the three sons of Noah from whom the whole earth was populated (9:18-19). It makes a special, double reference to the fact that Ham is the father of Canaan (9:18, 22). Since the next chapter states this (10:6), it isn’t needed here unless it is making a special point to Moses’ readers, namely, to trace God’s pattern of blessing and cursing with reference to these three branches of the human race, with special reference to the Canaanites, the corrupt people Israel would soon be facing in warfare.

Israel undoubtedly had heard of the moral corruption of the Canaanites. When Moses’ readers saw the words, “Ham was the father of Canaan,” they would have said, “Yes! Ham’s corrupt conduct reveals him as the true father of Canaan.” In Leviticus 18, the evil deeds of the Canaanites (which Israel was to avoid) are described repeatedly with the words “uncover” and “nakedness.” While these descendants of Ham and Canaan had gone far beyond what Ham did, no Israelite could fail to make the connection. The seed of Ham’s sin had come to a full harvest in his descendants through Canaan. So Moses’ purpose was to warn Israel of the evil practices of the Canaanites, to trace their sin to its source, and to justify their subjugation through holy warfare. They were a people under God’s curse because of their sin. (I’m indebted to Allen Ross, Bibliotheca Sacra [July-September, 1980], pp. 223-240 for much of the analysis above.)

Let me move from explanation to application:

1. Be careful not to allow a family member’s sin to trigger sin in you! Noah’s sin triggered Ham’s sin, which triggered Canaan’s sin, which can be traced to a corrupt nation centuries later. Sin is a lot like a nuclear chain reaction. One person’s sin leads to the next person’s sin, etc., until there is a trail of devastation. Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent or abusive parents. It’s easy for you to react to their sin by sinning yourself. Or if your mate is self-centered and treats you poorly, it’s easy to counter by being self-centered, rather than to respond with the love of Christ. Whenever you’re wronged, whether in the home, on the job, or in the church, it’s easy to retaliate rather than to obey God. So be careful not to continue the chain reaction of sin.

2. If you’re from a godly home, be careful not to trifle with spiritual things! Ham had probably helped his father build the ark while the neighbors laughed. Outwardly, he went along with the program. But in his heart, he hated his father’s righteousness. His heart was really with the world, not with his father. Even though he saw the horrors of God’s judgment through the flood, he was delighted when he finally saw his father sin. It gave him reason to justify his own sinful desires.

If you’re from a Christian home, you need to make sure that your faith in God is yours, not just the faith of your parents. Your parents’ faith won’t do for you. You need to trust in and obey the Lord because you fear Him and want His blessing, not just because Dad and Mom are Christians. If one or both of your parents fall into sin, you must be careful not to react with more sin of your own. You will stand before God all by yourself some day. You won’t be able to hide under your parents’ faith or to blame them for your own disobedience.

3. It is important to honor your parents, even if they’ve failed. The fifth commandment, to honor our fathers and mothers, is repeated by Paul (Eph. 6:1-3), along with his reminder that it is the first command with a promise, “that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” This command does not just apply to children living at home. Ham was married with at least four sons when he despised his father and brought this curse on his descendants. Respect for parents, even for sinful parents (which includes all!), is at the core of well-being both for individuals and for society. Like Shem and Japheth, we may have to cover some of our parents’ sins, but we bring God’s curse on ourselves and our grandchildren if we disrespect our parents.

But, perhaps you’re wondering, What about the consequences of Noah’s sin for himself? He pronounces a curse on Canaan, but nothing seems to happen to Noah. But the epilogue is a rather sad conclusion to a great life. After the flood and Noah’s sin, nothing else is recorded of his life. He lived 350 more years and died. During those remaining years, he had to live with the knowledge that one of his sons was not walking with God and that his grandson would inherit a curse stemming from his own drunken behavior. Noah himself is set forth as a warning to everyone about the dangers of drunkenness.

4. Beware of the dangers of alcohol! This is the first mention of wine in the Bible, and it’s not a pretty picture. A godly man like Noah was trapped by its subtle but potent influence. Getting drunk didn’t result in a good time, but in shame, a curse, and slavery (which is still often the case!). While the Bible does not prohibit a careful use of wine, it repeatedly warns of the dangers of drinking and it condemns drunkenness as a deed of the flesh, warning that the one who practices it will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). Because drunkenness (= “alcoholism”) is such a widespread problem in our country, I urge you not to drink at all. You can’t become an alcoholic if you don’t drink! If a Christian who is tempted by alcohol is led back into drinking by seeing you drink, you have caused him to stumble and have sinned against Christ (Romans 14).

Thus Noah’s sin shows us that even the godly are prone to sin. Ham’s sin and the curse on Canaan show us how easily calloused toward sin we all become. But we can also learn something from Shem and Japheth’s action:

3. We need not yield to temptation and we and our posterity will be blessed for following the Lord.

Shem and Japheth’s action of carefully covering Noah’s nakedness shows their fear of God and their respect for their father. As a result, Noah pronounces a blessing on them. The blessing on Shem is actually directed to the Lord, but it reveals that the Lord (Yahweh = the personal, covenant name of God) would be the personal covenant God of Shem and his line. This was fulfilled in that Abraham and the Jewish nation, and later Jesus the Messiah, came from the line of Shem. Canaan (which comes from a word meaning “to be humbled”) served Shem in that the Jews displaced the Canaanites in the land of Palestine.

Japheth is blessed with the words, “May God enlarge Japheth (Japheth means “enlarge”), and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (9:27). This was fulfilled in that Japheth’s descendants spread into the north and west, throughout Europe and eventually to America. The words about Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem are on one level an expression which implies “friendly sharing of his hospitality and so of his blessings” (Leupold). But beyond that this is the first glimmer in Scripture of the grafting in of the Gentiles to the spiritual blessings of Israel. We who are Japheth’s descendants have truly been blessed by dwelling in the tents of Shem!

The application of Shem and Japheth’s action for us is that we don’t have to yield to temptation. When Ham came to his brothers and told them of their father’s condition, they easily could have joined in the mockery. But instead they feared God and respected their father and thus did not sin. Ham couldn’t blame his sin on his father, because his two brothers showed that there was another option. They and their posterity were blessed because they chose to obey God. If you want God’s blessing on your life, on your children and your grandchildren, then don’t yield to the sin which so easily enslaves us, but yield yourself to God, as slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:16-22).


The bottom line for each of us is:

Though we are prone to sin, we can obey the Lord and experience His blessing.

Ask yourself, “Do I want God’s blessing in my life and for my children and grandchildren?” I don’t know how anybody in his right mind could answer any way but “Yes!” The way we experience God’s blessing is through obedience to Him. “That’s the problem!” you say. “I’m so weak I have trouble obeying.”

But the first step toward obedience is to recognize that you are not strong, you’re weak. You are prone to sin. Recognizing that drives you to depend on the Lord, who is able to free you from sin. We need to realize that if we know Christ, we can obey Him.

A pastor told of how a man came to him to discuss a chronic sin problem in his life. He revealed the whole sad story in detail--how long it had been going on, how he fell into it, and all the things he tried to do about it. He had been to many counselors who had explained many things to him, but nothing had worked.

He finally asked the pastor, “What do you think I ought to do?” The pastor replied, “I think you ought to stop doing it.” This shocked him. “That’s amazing,” he said. “‘Stop doing it, huh? How about that!” What impressed the man was that the pastor thought he could obey God on the matter. (Told by John Blattner, Pastoral Renewal [Nov., 1985], p. 54.)

Christ came to free us from sin; so if you know Him, you can stop sinning! My guess is that some here need to do that. You’ve been messing around with sin, and you need to deal with it. Senator Phil Gramm says, “Balancing the budget is like going to heaven. Everybody wants to do it. They just don’t want to do what you have to do to make the trip.” Obedience to the Lord is like that, too! We’re all for it, but we don’t want to pay the price. But if we want God’s blessing for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, we’ve got to get serious about obedience and get tough on our sin.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do we think that we will somehow build up an immunity against sin the more we grow in Christ? Is there any truth to this?
  2. How would you answer the charge that God was not fair in cursing Canaan? Is God unfair to cause children to suffer for their parents’ sins?
  3. Can all Christians obey God? What would you say to someone who said, “I’m too weak to obey”?
  4. How can we as Christian parents help our children to walk personally with God?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Hamartiology (Sin), Spiritual Life, Temptation

Lesson 22: The Roots of the Nations (Genesis 10:1-32)

Related Media

In his commentary on Genesis, Dr. H. C. Leupold, includes a section with hints for preaching the passage under consideration. With great hope I turned to see what he would say about Genesis 10, only to read: “It may very well be questioned whether a man should ever preach on a chapter such as this” (Baker Books, p. 380). Yet Dr. James Boice calls it “a chapter that is surely one of the most interesting and important in the entire Word of God” (Genesis [Zondervan], p. 337)! After studying it for a few hours, I confess that I was more inclined to side with Dr. Leupold than with Dr. Boice! If I could choose one chapter from the Bible to take with me to a desert island, it would not be Genesis 10. It is history at its most bare; it lists names and people whom we no longer know or care about.

And yet it is a part of the Word of God, which is all profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). So although this may not be one of the most crucial passages for us today, it does provide us with some important insights into the history of the human race. It is the most ancient record we possess of the roots of the nations. It is a bridge between the period we could call “pre-history” (from Adam to Abraham) and the historical times of Abraham and his descendants. And in spite of the pot shots of numerous critics in the past, most Bible scholars have become convinced of the accuracy of Genesis 10. William F. Albright (not a conservative) said that this chapter “stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel, even among the Greeks, where we find the closest approach to a distribution of peoples in genealogical framework.... The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document” (supplement to Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible [Eerdmans], p. 30).

The chapter is a genealogy, but not in the sense of Genesis 5 and 11, which trace lineage from father to son (or grandson). Rather, it contains individual names, place names, and many names of tribes or people groups, some of which may be derived from the patriarch of that group. Thus it is not just tracing individual histories, but the development of nations, especially as they related to Israel at the time of the conquest of Canaan. It isn’t a complete catalog of all nations, but rather a list that would help Israel understand the origins of the people they would encounter during the conquest, especially in light of the blessings and cursings of Noah’s oracle (9:25-27).

The chapter is divided between the descendants of Japheth (10:1-5), Ham (10:6-20), and Shem (10:21-32). There is debate among scholars as to the birth order of Noah’s sons. Some translate verse 21 so that Shem is the older brother of Japheth (NASB), whereas others understand Japheth to be the eldest (NIV, NKJV). There is also debate as to whether Ham was the middle son (he is always listed second) or the youngest (see 9:24). We probably cannot know for certain, but I’m inclined toward the view of Keil & Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], 1:156) that the birth order is Shem, Ham, and Japheth. In chapter 10, Japheth’s descendants are probably listed first because they were the most remote and thus the least important to Israel (which is Moses’ common pattern in Genesis, to dispose of the least important matters first). Since the line of Shem will occupy the rest of the book, it comes last.

I’m not going to attempt to work through every name in the chapter. There is a lot of speculation involved in trying to trace every name to a particular group of people, since names change in spelling over the years and from language to language. But we can be fairly certain about some of the broad trends and people movements.

We who are of European heritage are descended from Japheth. His descendants fanned out to the east and west from the probable landing site of the ark in eastern Turkey. It is generally agreed that Gomer’s, Javan’s and Tiras’s descendants moved into what is now Europe; Magog, Tubal, and Meschech moved north into what is now Russia; and Madai was the ancestor of the Medes and Persians, who eventually migrated into India. Thus the Indo-European languages are related, stemming from a common ancestor. The relationship of the languages of India and of western Europe was largely unknown until the 19th century, when comparative and historical study established their descent from a common language ancestor somewhere in eastern Europe. Yet Genesis 10 establishes this linkage.

The sons of Ham spread out primarily toward Africa. Cush is mentioned often in Scripture, and refers to Ethiopia. One notorious son of Cush, Nimrod, is listed. He moved east into the area of Babylon and Ninevah. (I’ll say more about him later.) Mizraim is Egypt, Put probably refers to Libya, and Canaan, of course, to the many peoples inhabiting the land of Palestine during the conquest.

One obvious question from this table of the nations is, Where are the Oriental races? They may be omitted, since the list is not necessarily comprehensive. But they may be related to the Sinites (10:17), which name is still preserved in the word “Sino-” in reference to China (such as Sino-American relations). Another possibility is that some of the Hittites (called Heth in 10:15), when their empire fell, fled eastward into China. The word Hittite has also been spelled “Khittae,” from which may come the word “Cathay,” another designation of China.

The boundaries of Canaan’s territory are described (10:19) because that is the particular region Israel was to conquer. Many of these lesser-known tribes bordered the land of Palestine. Moses wrote this so that Israel would know who these peoples were in relation to God’s promises of blessing and cursing on the descendants of Noah.

Of the sons of Shem, Eber is named at the head of the list (10:21) and again later (10:24) because the word “Hebrew” probably comes from his name. Elam was the ancestor of the Elamites, who lived in southeast Mesopotamia. Asshur was apparently the founder of the Assyrians, although nothing is known of him. Arpachshad was in the line leading to Abraham (11:10-26). Lud was probably the Ludbu of the Assyrians, situated on the Tigris River. Aram is the name of the Aramean tribes which lived on the steppes of Mesopotamia (from Allen P. Ross, “The Table of the Nations in Genesis 10--Its Content,” Bibliotheca Sacra [Jan.-Mar., 1981], pp. 22-34).

A mysterious note is attached to the name of Peleg (10:25, whose name in Hebrew means “divided”), that “in his days the earth was divided.” Most likely this refers to the dividing of the nations at Babel. Thus chronologically, Genesis 11 fits in here, which may be during Nimrod’s time (three or four generations after the flood). If Nimrod built Babylon, then God could have scattered the nations in his time, after which he moved north to conquer Ninevah.

Some have suggested that this division of the earth is a reference to continental drift, the idea that the continents were once together in one great land mass, but have drifted apart. There is scientific evidence to support that theory, although most would date it far earlier than this. But even in the last century, before scientists advanced that idea, some suggested this interpretation. It’s interesting that in Greek the word for sea is pelagos (we get “archipelago” from this). If there was a catastrophic upheaval in Peleg’s day, in which the continents moved apart and the seas broke in on the land, both the Greek and Hebrew meaning of Peleg’s name would make sense. But we can only be very speculative on the point.

With that as an overview of these verses, what can we learn from them spiritually? Three lessons:

1. People are quick to forget the one true God.

Verses 1 and 32 both contain the phrase, “after the flood.” You would think that a judgment as catastrophic as the flood would cause people to fear God for many generations after. They should have realized that they could not defy God with impunity. And yet here we have a table of the nations, with no hint that any of them followed the one true God.

It’s overwhelming to think of all these names and to realize that they represent whole groups of people, whole nations, who lived and died, for the most part, without God. Perhaps there was more knowledge of God than we are aware of, but what we know of these nations from later history would not indicate that any of them worshiped the one true God.

Nimrod is a case in point. Apparently his name was proverbial in Moses’ day, so that people compared a powerful man to Nimrod (10:9), much as we may say, “a dictator like Stalin.” At first glance, you might think that Nimrod was a good guy, since he is called a mighty hunter “before the Lord.” But the point is rather that Nimrod asserted himself against the Lord.

There are several clues which point us in this direction. First, the term “mighty one,” (used three times of Nimrod, 10:8, 9), recalls the powerful, but wicked Nephilim (Gen. 6:4). Nimrod was like them, mighty in their own exploits, but not mighty in godliness. Second, Nimrod was the founder of both Babylon and Ninevah, which later became enemies and conquerors of Israel. If you trace the word Babylon through the Bible, you find that it was first a city and later a symbolic word for a system that exalts man in opposition to God and oppresses man under tyranny.

In Genesis 11:4 the builders of the tower of Babel boasted that their tower would reach into heaven and that they would make a name for themselves. Centuries later, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, boasted in his own great power. He set up a gold statue as a symbol of his glory and power and forced everyone to bow down to it. Later he boasted as he walked on the roof of his palace, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). He exalted himself against God who is the ruler over mankind, who bestows human sovereignty to whomever He wishes (Dan. 4:32). And he used his power to force people to bow before false gods.

Later, in Revelation 17 & 18, we encounter both religious and political Babylon, the great harlot, who exalts herself against God and slaughters the people of God. She is said to sit on many waters, which are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues (Rev. 17:15). The wording reminds us of the families, languages, lands, and nations of Genesis 10:5, 20, and 31. Babylon oppresses the nations and turns them away from God.

For this reason, many commentators suggest that when the text says that Nimrod was a mighty hunter, it should be taken to mean not that he was a hunter of game, but a hunter of men. The Hebrew word is used elsewhere in reference to “a violent invasion of the persons and rights of men” (George Bush, Notes on Genesis [Klock & Klock] 1:171). Nimrod used his skill and force in warfare to build a kingdom for himself at others’ expense. Josephus wrote, “[Nimrod] was a bold man, and of great strength of hand; and he gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them to a constant dependence on his own power” (cited by Bush, p. 172).

Thus when it says that Nimrod was a mighty hunter “before the Lord,” the Hebrew is, “in the face of the Lord,” or “against the Lord” (as the Septuagint translates it). Moses is reminding his readers that Nimrod’s tyranny did not go unnoticed by God. His name itself comes from a word meaning “we will revolt.” He established his kingdom in defiance of God.

Note also that Nimrod was a nephew of Canaan, who was cursed by Noah. James Boice imagines Nimrod, who would have been aware of this curse, saying, “I don’t know about the others, but I regard this matter of the curse of God on Canaan as a major disgrace on my family, one that needs to be erased. Did God say that my uncle Canaan would be a slave? I’ll fight that judgment. I’ll never be a slave! What’s more, I’ll be the exact opposite. I’ll be so strong that others will become slaves to me. Instead of ‘slave,’ I’ll make them say, ‘Here comes Nimrod, the mightiest man on earth’” (ibid., 1:332).

An Italian proverb states, “Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box.” What good is it to become the founder of a mighty kingdom if you do not know the living and true God? Fame and power are fleeting in light of eternity. I have read that Mao Zedong, the powerful Chinese dictator, viewed by many of his people as divine, shortly before his death, said on several occasions, “I am soon going to meet God.” Afredo Stroessner ruled Paraguay as dictator for 34 years. He had named over 10,000 streets and public places after himself. But in February, 1989, he was deposed. The day after the coup, crews were already at work changing all of these names.

No matter how great we become in the eyes of men, the day comes quickly for us all when we must go to meet God. That fact should help us to remember Him all our days and to order our lives rightly before Him. We dare not forget, as Nimrod and all of these nations were so quick to do, that we must stand before Him. There’s a second lesson for us in Genesis 10:

2. People are quick to forget the oneness of the human race.

There is one true and living God; there is also one human race which He has created in His image. We all are descended from the same family. We who are theologically conservative sometimes hesitate to talk about the brotherhood of man, because the liberals use it to imply that everyone is in the family of God, apart from personal salvation. But there is a true biblical doctrine of the brotherhood of all men. Paul referred to it in his sermon at Athens when he said that God “made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In that same sermon he calls us all “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29).

If Christians would stop to ponder the implications of this rather dry tenth chapter of Genesis, racial prejudice would be dissolved. I have often been shocked to hear racist comments from Christians. Sad to say, many chapters of the Ku Klux Klan have Christian pastors serving as chaplains! But the Bible is clear that whatever your skin color, you can trace your ancestry back to one of the three sons of Noah. We’re all brothers and sisters!

Why then are we so quick to divide from one another and to oppress one another? The history of the human race has been one of power struggles in every level of society and among the various nations. Why? Because the one human race has one basic need: “... there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22b-23). As God said to Noah after the flood, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). That’s your need and mine: to repent of our sin, pride, and prejudice, and to know God’s forgiveness, so that His gospel of reconciliation can flow through us to those who have not heard. That’s the third lesson here:

3. God wants all people to hear of His one means of salvation.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on the cross is God’s one means of salvation. He wants all to hear.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “But what about all these nations before Abraham? They never heard about salvation through Christ.” Paul gives an answer in his sermon at Lystra when he says, “And in the generations gone by [God] permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). God’s witness was around them; if men will seek Him, He is not far from each one (Acts 17:27).

Although I admit that it’s a difficult problem, we know that God will be fair and just with every person. But the real question we need to face is, what about us who have heard? What are we to do? First, we must come to Christ, repent of our own sins, and receive His pardon. Then we are responsible to tell others. His plan is to use His people to tell the message of salvation to every family, language, land, and nation.

We will see in Genesis 12 how God chose Abraham and promised to bless all nations through him and his descendants. From Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob, in the fulness of time, the promised Savior was born. His own people did not receive Him, and so the Gentiles were grafted into the promise; as Noah prophesied, Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:27). Christ has purchased with His blood men “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Now we, who have received the blessings of God through Abraham, are commissioned to tell the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to those who haven’t heard.

Though people are quick to forget God and the oneness of the human race, God wants all people to hear of His one means of salvation.


You can count the number of nations in Genesis 10 in different ways and come up with slightly different figures. Jewish scholars counted 70 (26 from Shem, 30 from Ham [not including the Philistines, mentioned in passing; 10:14], and 14 from Japheth). Perhaps when our Lord chose 70 to go out to preach the gospel (Luke 10:1), He was saying, “I want a worker for every nation.” His Great Commission makes it clear that we are to go to every nation (people group). That is the thrust of the missions movement in our day, to see a church for every people by the year 2000.

Robert Woodruff was a man of vision. At the end of World War II, he said, “In my generation it is my desire that everyone in the world have a taste of Coca-Cola.” As president of Coca-Cola from 1923 to 1955, Woodruff motivated his colleagues to reach their generation around the world for Coke. It is no accident that Coke is now sold from the deserts of Africa to the interior of China.

If they can do it with Coke, can’t we do it with Christ? I want to leave you with two questions to ask yourself soberly before God:

Am I doing all I can to reach as many for Christ as I can? If not, what am I going to change in order to do something about it? God wants all the nations to hear the good news about the Savior.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some practical ways most of us could be more involved in the Great Commission?
  2. Which is more difficult: To give money to missionaries or to tell your neighbor about Christ?
  3. How do we know how much we should give to world missions? What guidelines can help us to be faithful in this matter?
  4. How would you answer a critic’s question, “What about those who have never heard the gospel?”

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: History, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 23: Man Versus God: God Wins (Genesis 11:1-9)

Related Media

Several years ago, during the nuclear arms race, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted a pastoral letter condemning the U.S policy. One sentence read: “Today the destructive potential of the nuclear powers threatens the sovereignty of God over the world he has brought into being” (Newsweek, 11/8/82).

Imagine! God’s sovereignty over His creation threatened by the plans and programs of world leaders, as if God were sitting in heaven, wringing His hands, crying, “What can I do! I never knew they’d build the bomb!” The bottom line is that if God’s sovereignty is threatened by what man does, then man, not God, is sovereign.

For centuries, men have deluded themselves by thinking they could determine their destinies apart from God. As William Ernest Henley boasted in his poem, “Invictus,” “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Proud men think that they can call the shots. What they forget is that one little virus, one drunk driver, one “freak” accident, is all it takes to end their proud plans.

The Bible declares, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). Concerning world rulers, a later king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled by God until he learned that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes” (Dan. 4:17, 25). As the psalmist expressed God’s response to proud kings who challenge His rule, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:4). Concerning the plans of proud man, the Bible declares, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand” (Prov. 19:21).

These verses are a commentary on Genesis 11:1-9, where we find proud man planning to thwart the purpose of God. But God effortlessly confuses their language, and their ambitious plans are laid waste. It teaches us that ...

When proud men set themselves against the Sovereign God, God always wins.


It’s like saying, When a deluded man sets himself against a speeding locomotive, the train always wins. Unless you want to spend your life in futility, you must submit to the Sovereign God.

The story is skillfully placed in the middle of two lists tracing the descendants of Shem (10:21-31; 11:10-32). In chapter 10:8-11, we learned that Nimrod, a rebellious, aggressive descendant of Ham, founded Babel. A dominant theme in the Babel story is that these settlers wanted to make a name for themselves; but in line with their rebellious leader, Nimrod, they are doing it in defiance of God. In Hebrew, Shem means “name.” Moses is saying that if we proudly seek to make a name for ourselves by our achievements, God will scatter us. If we want His blessing, we must, like Shem, obey Him. From Shem’s line will come Abraham and God’s covenant of blessing.

The story serves as a sequel to the table of the nations, explaining why the nations were scattered and why they spoke different languages. It also shows that their root problem was their rebellious pride toward God. Thus it serves as a warning to Moses’ readers to submit themselves under God’s mighty hand and not be deluded into thinking that they will prosper if they rebel against Him.

The story is written with delightful literary skill. The Hebrew text is full of wordplays and poetic devices. The ultimate wordplay is in verse 9, where Babel is played off the Hebrew balel, meaning “confusion.” Babylonian accounts tell how their city was built in heaven by the gods, proudly referring to it as “Babili” (“the gate of God”). But God says, “So you want to make a name for yourselves, do you? You call your city the gate of God? How about ‘confusion’ instead?”

The narrative uses antithetic parallelism to contrast and balance the ideas. Verse 1 is set off against verse 9, verse 2 against verse 8, and verse 3 against verse 7, with verse 5 being the hinge of the story. Verse 1 mentions “the whole earth” and emphasizes the unity of the language; verse 9 also mentions “the whole earth” (twice), but contrasts God’s confusion of the languages with the unity of verse 1. Verse 2 shows the people settling in one location; verse 8 contrasts that with the Lord’s scattering them abroad. Verses 3 & 4 show the people boasting in their plans to build a city and a tower, with the words, “Come, let us build ...”; verse 7 and part of verse 8 provide the contrast with the Lord stopping their plans, using the same form, “Come, let us confuse ....” In verse 4, the people plan to build a tower to reach up to heaven; but in verses 5 & 7, the Lord has to come down in order to view this supposedly great project that man is attempting to build. In verse 4 men fear that they will be scattered over the earth; in verses 8 & 9, what they fear comes upon them through the punishing--and yet protecting--hand of God. (I’m indebted to Allen P. Ross, “The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9,” Bibliotheca Sacra [Apr.-June, 1981], pp. 119-138, for most of these insights.)

Some have been bothered by verse 5, which seems to imply that God didn’t know what was happening on earth, as if He were feeble or near-sighted. So He comes down for a closer look. While the verse is anthropomorphic (using human language to describe God), its point is satirical. Here proud men build a tower whose top (they think) will reach into heaven; but God, who is high and lifted up, must come down in order to view it. It’s just a speck from His vantage point. The satire is heightened by referring to the builders as “the sons of men” (11:5). They are not gods; they were mere, puny men. It is a clever satire on the feebleness of men who vainly think they can penetrate God’s realm. Man may plan and build in defiance of God, but God will accomplish His purpose in spite of man’s rebellion.

1. Men proudly set themselves against the sovereign God (11:1-4).

Derek Kidner (Genesis [IVP], p. 109) observes,

The primeval history reaches its fruitless climax as man, conscious of new abilities, prepares to glorify and fortify himself by collective effort. The elements of the story are timelessly characteristic of the spirit of the world. The project is typically grandiose; men describe it excitedly to one another as if it were the ultimate achievement .... At the same time they betray their insecurity as they crowd together to preserve their identity and control their fortunes.

We can see the spirit of Babel in the worldly reaction to the AIDS epidemic. No one outside the church (and few in it) is saying, “This is the judgment of a holy God on our sexual immorality. We must repent.” Rather, the attitude is, “Let’s not condemn anybody. It’s not their fault they’ve contracted this disease. We’ll find a cure and fix this terrible problem. Meanwhile, make sure you have safe sex.” It is man seeking to overcome his problems apart from submitting to the Sovereign God.

Babel was Nimrod’s project. He wanted to build his empire in defiance of God. But you can tell from verse 4 that he promoted it under the guise of human betterment. “We’ll make a better world, a world that is safe for us all. Why be scattered over the face of the earth? Settle in Babel!” It sounded attractive, but there was one major problem: God was not consulted or trusted. When man can do it by himself, he doesn’t doesn’t need a Savior. This was arrogance and open rebellion against the Lord. God had said to fill the earth (9:1), but these people said, “Let’s build a city so that we won’t be scattered.” They wanted the good life, but on their own terms and in their own way, without submitting to God. Babel was the epitome of human effort and achievement to solve the problems of this world, but to solve them without admitting sin and without coming to God, who alone has the remedy for human sin.

Apparently there were no stones in the area to use in building their city and tower. So they developed kiln-dried bricks and used pitch for mortar. Making bricks when there was no stone bolstered their pride and confidence in themselves. “We can do anything, overcome any hardship. The only limit on what we can do is our own imagination. Let’s go forward.” As in Genesis 4, it was progress; but it was progress without God.

Yet in spite of this bravado, these pioneers had an underlying sense of anxiety. They feared that they would be scattered over the face of the earth and die unknown, without a name for themselves. Isn’t that just like proud man? Like a little boy, he puts on a brave front, but deep down inside, he’s afraid.

The tower figures in the story here. I believe it had religious significance. Archaeologists have uncovered in this region a number of ziggurats, or religious towers, made of kiln-dried bricks and pitch. These may be modeled after this original tower. We know that astrology originated in Babylon, so this tower may have been designed so that the top contained a representation of the heavens (the signs of the zodiac) on it. Astrology replaces submission to the Sovereign God with submission to fate as seen in the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. Thus it is a form of idolatry and is satanic in origin.

All false religion is a scheme of making God available to man for man’s glory and plans. Sometimes it is very subtle, because it uses the name of the true God, and all the right words, but it’s a cover for a man-centered system that dethrones God and robs Him of glory. Many people in Christian churches “received Christ” so that He could help them be happy or solve their problems or succeed in life. But self was never dethroned. Pride was never humbled. They never bowed before the Sovereign God and confessed their sinfulness and yielded to His rightful lordship. Just like the residents of Babel, they’re using God and religion for their own benefit, rather than submitting to Him and judging their proud, sinful rebellion. But such people actually are opposed to God. What they need to understand is,

2. The Sovereign God always wins (11:5-9).

The hinge of the passage is, “the Lord came down” (11:5). He sovereignly acts to bring about His own purpose in spite of man’s rebellion. The Lord acknowledges man’s possibilities: “now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (11:6). But note that God did not approve man’s possibilities; He thwarted them, in order to establish His own sovereignty. God is not Aladdin’s Genie to help us reach our goals. We must submit to His will.

God is exalted by the manner in which He so easily disposes of proud man’s efforts: He confuses their languages. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor! It must have been hilarious to watch the workers the morning this happened. The boss is trying to tell a crew to do something, and they look at him like he’s from outer space. Then they start talking and every one of them is speaking a different language. Each person must have thought the others had flipped out! Whenever you see the people at the United Nations with their headsets on, so that they can understand the translation, remember Babel, and know that God is exalted over proud man.

God’s action in scattering the people was both a punishment and a preventative, to keep man’s pride from going too far. Man’s plans for unity and strength ultimately would have resulted in great evil, because it was done in human wisdom apart from the Lord. It would have resulted in what God will one day permit, the one world government and one world religion under the total domination of the antichrist. And so God met the unity on earth with disunity from heaven.

As I wrote in the recent church newsletter, there is a great push in our day for unity among the churches. Part of the rallying cry is for the churches to come together for prayer. That sounds good on the surface. How can anyone be opposed to prayer? But when it means God’s people joining with those who pray the rosary or pray to the virgin Mary, it is not true Christian unity. God wants Christians unified, but not at the cost of fundamental truth. Derek Kidner writes, “... unity and peace are not ultimate goods: better division than collective apostasy” (p. 110). Satan is always trying to counterfeit the work of God. Here he was building a false unity which did not honor the Lord. God one day will unify His people, but it will be under His sovereignty, not under the banner of proud man. In Zephaniah 3:9-12, the Lord says,

For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder.... In that day you will feel no shame because of all your deeds by which you have rebelled against Me; for then I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty on My holy mountain. But I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord.

Those who truly belong to the Lord are lowly people who take refuge in the name of the Lord, who bow under His sovereignty.

Let me nail down this passage with three applications:


1. If you’re not growing in humility, you’re not growing as a Christian. Since pride is the root sin of all sins, humility is the chief virtue of the Christian life. Since the original temptation in the garden, Satan has been active in trying to get man to exalt himself against God. It has flooded into the church in our day under the banner of building your self-esteem. But the Bible is clear that we all esteem ourselves too highly. Even the person who goes around dumping on himself is self-focused. I used to teach the popular views on self-esteem. But in reading Calvin’s Institutes I came to realize how far I had drifted from the clear teaching of Scripture, and I had to repent. He writes,

A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility. But that of Augustine pleases me even more: “When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’” (II:II:11).

Calvin not only taught humility, he modeled it. On one occasion, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Sadolet passed incognito through Geneva. He wanted to have a look at the famous reformer. He found the simple house on Canon Street and stood there amazed. Could the great Calvin live in this little place? He knocked. Calvin himself, in a plain black robe, answered the door. Sadolet was dumbfounded. Where were the servants who should have been scurrying about to do their master’s bidding? Even the bishops of Rome lived in mansions, surrounded by wealth and servants. Archbishops and cardinals lived in palaces like kings. And here was the most famous man in the whole Protestant church, in a little house, answering his own door! (Thea B. Van Halsema, This Was John Calvin [Baker], pp. 164-175.)

If you ask, How do I grow in humility? the biblical answer is: Get a clearer picture of the greatness of God in His holiness; and, get a more accurate view of the depth of your own sinfulness. C. S. Lewis wrote (Mere Christianity [Macmillan], p. 111),

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that--and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison--you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

In 1715 Louis XIV of France died. He had called himself “Louis the Great,” and was famous for his brash statement, “I am the State!” His court was the most lavish in Europe and his funeral the most spectacular. His body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be dimly lit, with a special candle set above the coffin. Thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle, saying, “Only God is great.”

2. Take care how you build because God will inspect it. “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (11:5). He inspected their work. He will inspect our work as well. We had better build with that in view. I’m talking about the motive behind your service for the Lord. God looks on our hearts. He’s concerned about why you do what you do. Is it to gain the praise of men? Is it to meet your own needs? Or is it to honor and glorify Him? The question is not, What does your work look like from the outside? I’m sure the city and tower were the most impressive thing on the face of the earth in that day. There are many works for God in our day that seem quite impressive. The question is, What does God see? Calvin writes, “We never truly glory in him [God] unless we have utterly put off our own glory. On the other hand, we must hold this as a universal principle: whoever glories in himself, glories against God” (III:XIII:2).

3. Make sure that your hope for heaven is based only on God’s grace through the cross of Christ, not on anything in yourself. Man’s religions always seek to reach God through human effort. Thus man can boast in his standing before God, because he had a part in it. But biblical Christianity says, “May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The cross strips us of our pride and puts all our hope in the merits of the Savior.

Dr. Harry Ironside told the story of a new convert who gave his testimony at a church service. With great joy he told how he had been delivered from a life of sin. He gave all the glory to God, saying nothing about his own merits or anything he had done to deserve his salvation. The man in charge of the service was a legalistic man who did not appreciate the reality of salvation by grace through faith apart from human works. So he responded to the young man’s testimony by saying, “You seem to indicate that God did everything when He saved you. Didn’t you do your part before God did His?”

The new Christian jumped to his feet and said, “Oh, yes, I did. For more than 30 years I ran away from God as fast as my sins could carry me. That was my part. But God took out after me and ran me down. That was His part.” Ironside observed, “It was well put and tells a story that every redeemed sinner understands” (from “Our Daily Bread”).

Scripture is clear: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). If you don’t want God as your enemy, humble yourself under His mighty hand, confessing your sin. Forsaking all trust in yourself or your efforts, trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Remember, if you set yourself against the Sovereign God, God always wins!

Discussion Questions

  1. How can believers fight pride and grow in humility?
  2. How can Christians know when it’s right to divide from professing Christians? How much impurity should we tolerate?
  3. Should Christians aim for success in their jobs? How does humility fit in with striving for success?
  4. Why is the cross central to Christianity?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Eschatology (Things to Come), Spiritual Life

Lesson 24: The God of History and You (Genesis 11:10-32)

Related Media

History was never my favorite course in college. It seemed like it just involved memorizing a bunch of irrelevant names and dates and facts so that I could spit them back on the test. What was the point?

But then I took church history at Dallas Seminary with Dr. John Hannah. He was able to take the various men and ideas and events from the past and show how it all explains where we’re at in the present. His courses gave me a lot of understanding not only about where American Christianity is at, but also about the various men and ideas that had shaped my thinking, even though I had not previously known where they were at on the theological spectrum. And, he also helped open my eyes to other great men of God who, since then, have greatly shaped my life as I have studied their lives and writings.

Someone has said that history is actually “His story”--God’s story--because He is sovereignly moving men and nations according to His purposes. Thus it is important to understand history, especially biblical history, because it helps us understand what God is doing and how our lives can fit into His purpose.

I must admit that our text, which traces the genealogy from Shem to Abraham, doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. We may wonder why God takes up the pages of Scripture with this kind of thing. But the point of the text is to show us that God is the God of history who is working out His eternal plan through the lives of His people. His movements sometimes seem slow by our standards. But He is steadily at work. And this God of history is our God. He has called us to Himself and will use us in His eternal plan. Knowing this gives meaning to our lives. So our text shows that ...

God is steadily moving in history to accomplish His plan of salvation.

As I said in our first study, Genesis is divided in the Hebrew text by the word toledot, translated “generations” or “history.” The last section began in 6:9, with the generations of Noah. Genesis 11:10 begins the section dealing with the generations of Shem; 11:27 begins a section which runs through 25:11, dealing with the generations of Terah, the father of Abraham, or Abram, as he was first named.

Abraham is the central figure of Genesis. In fact, apart from Jesus Christ, it could be argued that he is the most important figure in the Bible. While 11 chapters in Genesis cover the period from creation to Abraham (at least 2,000 years), 14 chapters are devoted to the life of Abraham. He is the father of all believers. In several places the New Testament uses Abraham as the prime example to explain the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith apart from works. God often refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham stands as the father of the Jewish nation, directly in the ancestry of Jesus Christ. He even holds an important place in heaven, which Jesus referred to as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). Our text gives us the lineage from Shem to this important biblical figure, Abraham.

What can we learn from this genealogy? Three factors are seen here in how God is at work in history to accomplish His plan of salvation:

1. God’s plan of salvation in history involves His choice.

A narrowing process is at work here. Chapter 10 lists the three sons of Noah. God chose Shem as the line through which He would bring blessing to the world. Of Shem’s five sons (10:22), God chose Arpachshad. In each case we read, “he had other sons and daughters,” but only one of those offspring was chosen in the ancestry leading from Noah through Shem to Abraham and eventually to Christ. God’s choice lies behind the history.

You may wonder why God chooses certain individuals. Maybe He looked down through history and saw somebody who would have faith or live a decent life, and said, “There’s My man! I’ll choose him.” But that isn’t the way it works.

A. God’s choice is according to grace, not merit.

We don’t know much about most of Shem’s descendants listed here. But we do know something about Terah, Abraham’s father, and a few generations before him. In Joshua 24:2 the Lord says, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods” (also Josh. 24:14-15). Abraham came from a pagan family, and was probably an idolater himself when God called him. In fact, even three generations later, when Rachel stole her father’s household gods, the family was still into idolatry (Gen. 31:30-35).

God’s sovereign choice never depends on human merit. He didn’t look down from heaven and say, “There’s a good man; I’ll choose him.” Rather, God only chooses and calls sinners to Himself. Abraham was a sinner. God chose him simply because of grace, apart from anything God foresaw in Abraham. If God chose Abraham because He foresaw that Abraham would believe, then Abraham could boast in his faith as the reason God chose him. But salvation, from start to finish, is all from God, not at all from man.

C. H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the past century, was once preaching to a Methodist congregation. During the first part of his sermon, the people were nodding in agreement and saying, “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” Then Spurgeon came to the doctrine of election and noticed a distinct change in the mood of his audience. (Methodists do not accept that doctrine.) So he proceeded to put it to them this way. He asked, “Is there any difference between you and others who have not been converted?” They responded, “Yes, glory to God! There is a difference.” Then Spurgeon asked, “Who has made the difference, yourself or God?” “The Lord,” they said. Spurgeon shot back, “Yes, and that is the doctrine of election; that if there be a difference, the Lord made the difference.” (The New Park Street Pulpit [Baker], 6:138.)

One reason that people don’t like this doctrine is that they think that it’s not fair of God to choose some and not all. But to contend that God is not fair to show mercy to some and not to others is to usurp God’s sovereignty and to impugn His character, as Paul argues in Romans 9. God would be fair if He condemned everyone. All of these men and their descendants had known about God through their ancestor, Noah, and the flood. But, as Paul puts it in Romans 1:18, they had “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness,” rejecting God’s revelation of His attributes and power through creation. Thus they, not God, were responsible for their spiritual condition. Genesis 10 and 11, which shows us the course of the nations going their own way after the flood, is the Old Testament’s way of saying what Paul says, that God gave them up to their sin; He permitted them to go their own ways (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Acts 14:16).

The point is, God didn’t choose Abraham because he was a good man. He chose Abraham to demonstrate His grace. He doesn’t choose anyone because they deserve it. He only chooses sinners who deserve His judgment. And while that’s a blow to our sinful pride, it is actually very good news. It means that you cannot do anything to qualify yourself for God’s salvation. You can only come to God confessing your sin and asking for His mercy, and He will grant it because He is a merciful God. God’s plan of salvation involves His choice according to His grace.

B. God’s choice of a life is what matters.

The thing which separated Abraham from all his contemporaries was that God chose him. It is God’s hand on a life that matters. If God does not choose, if He does not call a person to Himself, you’ve just got human religion. But when God is in it, you’ve got His power unto salvation.

Some people stumble over the doctrine of election. But the heart of election is that salvation is of God. He originates it, He moves in our lives before we ever seek Him. So we can take no credit for our salvation; it all comes from Him (see 1 Cor. 1:26-31). That humbles your pride, but it’s a source of great joy and blessing when it dawns on you.

Abraham’s life shows us that God has His hand on a life even before the person is aware of it. He places each person in a particular family. Sometimes, even though that family serves idols, God will take one member and use him to turn the family and even whole nations toward God for generations afterward. Every person who has been used of God will testify that it is God’s choice of him that has made all the difference in his life. Jeremiah the prophet said that God knew him, consecrated him, and appointed him before he was formed in the womb (Jer. 1:5). Paul said that God set him apart even from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15). By nature they all were sinners. But by God’s grace, they were chosen to know Him and serve Him. That’s what mattered.

The apostle Peter commands us, “Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Pet. 1:10). How can we do this? First, have you believed in Christ as Savior and Lord? This is the prime evidence that He has chosen you. You did not believe because of your will (John 1:13). The fallen human will is bound in sin. You believed because God imparted faith to you (Phil 1:29). Then, to your faith, Peter urges you to supply various godly character qualities (2 Pet. 1:5-9). In other words, growth in godliness will help you to be more certain about God’s calling and choosing you (1:11). It is a source of great comfort when God reveals to you that He chose you by His grace and that because of His choice your life can be greatly used by Him in His eternal plan of salvation.

2. God’s plan of salvation in history involves time.

This genealogy shows God’s time, both with the nations and with individuals.

A. God’s plan involves time with the nations.

We don’t know exactly how much time elapsed from Shem to Abraham. If you add up the totals here, you get about 350 years from the birth of Arpachshad to the birth of Abraham. But it was common in that day, when tracing ancestry, to be selective and to leave gaps. So when it says that Arpachshad lived 35 years and became the father of Shelah (11:12), it may be a direct link; or it may mean that he became the father of an unnamed man who was the ancestor of Shelah. To the Hebrews and others of that time, this was not misleading. It was just a different way of thinking than we’re used to. In fact, Luke 3:36 adds Cainan between Arpachshad and Shelah.

But at any rate, there was a fair amount of time between Noah and when God chose Abraham and began to call a people unto Himself. Many people were born and died during those years. The nations spread out over the earth. Most of those nations had strayed from the truth about God. And yet, for reasons known only to Him, God waited over 350 years until Abraham to issue His covenant to bless all nations through him.

Again, this bothers some people. What about all those people who never heard? They were not without a witness through creation of God’s goodness and power (Rom. 1:18; Acts 14:17). As we’ve seen, they were not innocent people. They suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. But it ought to make us grateful for the fact that we live in a time and place where God has made known His salvation in a clear and definite way. We have God’s Word in front of us. We have abundant opportunities to hear His truth preached. What if you had been born in America 500 years ago? God was not moving in this land at that time as He is now. Be thankful that you are privileged to know Him!

B. God’s plan involves time with individuals.

We read in Genesis 12:4 that Abraham was 75 when he left Haran for Canaan. Even though people were living longer at that time, he was no youth. Why didn’t God call Abraham when he was 20 and give him Isaac when he was 30? I can’t answer that question, except to say that God’s timing is often not in line with ours. Even after God called Abraham, he grew slowly. God had originally called him when he was in Ur. He got as far as Haran and settled there until his father died (Acts 7:2-4). From God’s perspective, that was wasted time. Yet God still used him.

There is a chronological problem I should mention. In 11:32 it says that Terah, Abraham’s father, was 205 when he died. Abraham didn’t leave Haran until then (Acts 7:4), when he was 75. That would make Terah 130 when Abraham was born. But 11:27 says that when Terah was 70 he became the father of Abraham, Nahor and Haran. The most likely answer is that at 70 Terah had his first son. Abraham is mentioned first in 11:27 because he was the most important son in the story. But Abraham wasn’t born until 60 years after his oldest brother. The problem with this solution is that later, Abraham is surprised to learn that he will be a father at 100, which is hard to understand if his own father had been 130 at Abraham’s birth. But perhaps with the shortening life spans, Abraham knew at 100 that he was pushing the limit for fathering a child.

But to return to the point, God worked slowly with Abraham. As we’ll see in future weeks, after he got to Canaan, he didn’t stay, but moved on to Egypt, where he tried to pawn off Sarah as his sister. You know how he later tried to hurry God’s promise by fathering a son through Hagar. But in spite of his rough edges, in spite of the time it took, God used Abraham.

That’s an encouragement to me. It usually seems like it’s taking me so long to learn what God is trying to teach me. I’ve wasted so much time and gone off on so many side trails. I would despair if I thought it was up to me. But seeing how God worked slowly but surely with Abraham encourages me that there is hope even for me.

So these genealogies teach us that God is steadily moving in history to accomplish His plan of salvation, and that His plan involves His choice and time.

3. God’s plan of salvation in history involves individuals.

A. God’s plan involved Abraham.

Why not Arpachshad or Terah? We don’t know. But we do know that God used Abraham in His plan of salvation in the history of the human race. And Abraham responded to God’s call in faith and obedience. He was only one man out of millions on the earth in his day. But his life, obedient to God, made a difference.

An individual life yielded to God’s purpose can make a tremendous impact on the course of human events. Perhaps none of us will be used to shape history to the extent that Abraham did. But we can know that God is weaving our lives into the tapestry of history if we are obedient to His call. We may not see the final results even in our lifetime. But we can know that our lives are not in vain if we walk with God.

I enjoyed Edith Schaeffer’s, The Tapestry, which tells the story of her and Francis and their life together. The title reflects the point that she makes repeatedly throughout the story, that God is weaving the events of our lives into His divine tapestry. We seldom are aware of how He is working at the time. She says that she and Fran did not sit down and plan out their ministry at L’Abri, and how it would have a worldwide impact. Rather they were faithful in doing what God gave them to do, responding to the opportunities He set before them, and He blessed their ministry.

Even the trials God brings into our lives are part of the tapestry. Often they become the source of His greatest blessings. Verse 30 mentions that Sarah was barren. As you know, that will figure importantly in the story as it unfolds. If you had asked Abraham at this point, he probably would have complained, “I don’t understand why God doesn’t give us any children.” He would especially have complained after God promised to give him more descendants than the sand of the seashore, but he still didn’t have any children. But you know how God turned that trial into the greatest blessing in Abraham’s life. He often does that with us. We don’t understand why He isn’t doing things as we would choose. But like Abraham, we must learn to trust Him even when we don’t understand.

But God’s plan of salvation doesn’t just involve famous individuals like Abraham.

B. God’s plan involves you.

Even as God’s hand was upon Abraham, so His hand is on you. The very fact that you’re hearing this message is proof that God has intersected your life, even if you’re not yet a believer. Like Abraham at the first, you may still be in Ur of the Chaldees. That is to say, you have not yet come to know God in a personal way. Probably, like Abraham at this stage in his life, you are serving idols, gods of your own making. Perhaps you serve the god of money or success or pleasure. You probably serve the god of self. But today you have heard the living and true God calling your name and saying, “I want you to turn from your sin and to follow Me.” If you will say yes to God, like Abraham, your life will never be the same.

Some of you may be at Haran. This was Abraham’s half-way station. He began to follow God’s call when he left Ur and moved to Haran, several hundred miles closer to Canaan. But he got sidetracked. It took another call from God to get him out of Haran. The call in chapter 12 is probably the second call God issued to Abraham.

Thankfully, God often issues second calls to those He uses in His plan of salvation. God called Moses; Moses blew it by killing the Egyptian and fleeing into the wilderness for 40 years. But God called Moses again. God called Jonah; Jonah took off in the opposite direction. But the word of the Lord came unto Jonah a second time. God called Peter; Peter denied the Lord three times. But the Lord restored Peter with the threefold command, “Feed My sheep.” If you’ve begun to follow the Lord, but you’ve gotten side-tracked along the way, today He’s telling you, “Come on, I want you to go on with Me.”


The important thing is, wherever you’re at, to yield yourself to the Lord. A journalist was elected to the world-famous Adventurers’ Club. He didn’t know the amount of the dues, so he sent in a signed blank check. The Adventurers promptly elected him Adventurer of the Year! God wants you to sign your life over as a blank check to Him. Yes, it’s an adventure! But you can trust Him not to take advantage of you. If you will yield your life to Him and walk with Him every day, He will use you in His movement in history to bring about His great plan of salvation for the nations. There is no more significant way to spend your life!

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you answer the charge that election robs man of free will and makes God unfair (see Rom. 9:8-24)?
  2. Where is the biblical balance between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? How can we tell when we’re out of balance?
  3. The doctrine of God’s sovereign election gives me: A. Comfort B. Doubts (Pick one). Discuss.

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: History, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 25: Great Privilege, Great Responsibility (Genesis 12:1-3)

Related Media

We live in a day of rampant selfism. In his book, Habits of the Heart, sociologist Robert Bellah and his associates interviewed a broad range of middle-class Americans to discover how they make sense of their lives. One young nurse, Sheila Larson, described her personal philosophy as “Sheilaism,” explaining, “It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.” (Newsweek [9/30/91], p. 64.) Melody Beattie, author of the best seller, Co-Dependent No More, sums up her philosophy in her dedication: “I dedicate this book to me.” Self-help guru, John Bradshaw, says that you should say out loud and often, “I love myself. I will accept myself unconditionally” (Healing the Shame That Binds You [Health Communications, Inc.], p. 158).

It would be one thing if all this selfism was outside the church and stayed there. But, as you know, it has flooded into the church. Even though Melody Beattie is not a Christian, her book is sold by Christian book stores and catalogs. Many Christians view their faith as the means to personal fulfillment and happiness. The ultimate test of truth for many in the church is, “Does it bring me the good feelings and happy life I’m after? If it does, it must be true. If it results in long-term pain or hardship, forget it!” We’re in the market for whatever will make self happy.

A healthy antidote to this trend is to study the calling and life of this godly man, Abram. He was living as a pagan idolater in a pagan city, Ur of the Chaldees, when God called him and made a covenant with him. Abram left familiar surroundings, family, and friends and went out by faith to an unknown destination and future. Believing the promise of God, he became the father of all who follow God. He died in faith, not having received all that God had promised, but believing that it would be so. Abram’s life, and especially God’s calling him, teach us that ...

God calls us to bless us and to make us a blessing to all the nations.

Yes, thank God, His calling us involves His blessing us (although that blessing sometimes includes difficult trials). But that’s only half the story. If we bottle up God’s blessings for ourselves, we’re missing the reason He calls us: He has called us and blessed us so that we will become His channel for blessing all the nations. As God’s chosen people, we have a great privilege--God’s blessing; and, a great responsibility--to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Verses 1-3 are symmetrical: There is a command from the Lord (“Go forth”) followed by three promises: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.” Then there is a second command, rendered as a future tense in most versions: “Be a blessing” (NASB margin), followed by three more promises: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abram’s obedience to the first command would start a chain reaction in which God would bless him so that he could fulfill the second command to be a blessing, which would result in God’s further blessing.

1. Our great privilege: God calls us to bless us.

Derek Kidner observes, “The history of redemption, like that of creation, begins with God speaking: this, in a nutshell, differentiates Abram’s story from his father’s” (Genesis [IVP], p. 113). As I emphasized last week, salvation is from the Lord, not from man. Here was Abram, going about his pagan life in Ur, when God called him to a completely new way of life. God’s call set Abram apart. It is God’s call to us that sets us apart from our wicked world. Note three things about:

A. God’s Call

(1) God’s call comes with authority. God is the sovereign God who calls men to Himself with authority. He didn’t suggest, “Abram, if you’d like a happier life, you might try moving to Canaan.” He commanded, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” It was a command that demanded a response. Abram would have been in disobedience to the sovereign God if he had not obeyed.

In the New Testament, the word “call” or “calling” is most often used of God’s call to salvation. It is not a helpful hint for happier living. It is the authoritative command of God. When Jesus began to preach the gospel, Mark 1:15 sums up His message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” It was the word of the King calling rebellious subjects to quit their rebellion and bow before His rightful sovereignty.

It is a command with serious consequences. If we disobey, the day is coming when the King with force will squash all rebellion and punish those who have refused to yield to Him. The gospel call isn’t a nice option if you decide that maybe Jesus can help you be happy. It is the authoritative command of the King, calling you to stop going your own way and to come under His rightful sovereignty. Once you have heard that call, as you have today, you must obey or you are in rebellion against the sovereign God.

(2) God’s call often requires difficulty. God’s call to Abram was not easy for Abram to follow. He was 75 years old, established in his community, and tied in closely with his extended family. God could have said, “I’ll be your God and you can stay in Ur. You have contacts here, and we’ll use those to further My purpose.” No, God told him to leave his familiar surroundings and his extended family and head off to some unknown destination. God did not even reveal at first where Abram would be going. He didn’t show him color brochures of the swimming pools and golf courses in Canaan. There’s a hint that he would face hostility: some would curse him (12:3). Travel wasn’t easy in those days. There weren’t motels and fast food restaurants along the Interstate highway. No U-Haul trucks. Abram couldn’t call home and let everyone know how life was in the new place. He had to say good-bye once and for all to his country and relatives and set out to follow God.

While God may not ask you or me literally to leave our country or our families, He does call us to separate ourselves from all that would hinder our complete commitment to Him. The word “holy” comes from a word meaning to be separate or set apart. To be holy is to be separate from sin and set apart unto God. The core of holiness, or separation, is not outward, but inward. We must break from our culture’s sinful ways of thinking. We must become biblical thinkers who are able to evaluate our culture by the standard of God’s Word.

We should evaluate the greed of our culture by what the Bible says about contentment and generosity. We should evaluate the sensuality of our culture by what the Bible says about purity and the sanctity of sex in marriage. We should evaluate our culture’s obsession with pleasure and self-centeredness by what the Bible says about service and self-denial. Only when we think biblically about life will we act biblically and be holy people.

Sometimes a person must make a break with family, as painful as that is. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). He did not mean that we should despise or needlessly alienate our families. The Bible is clear that we are to honor our parents and love our families. New Christians especially need to be sensitive and respectful toward family members who oppose Christianity. But Jesus did mean that if our closest loved ones stand between us and Him, our choice is clear: We must follow Christ.

Several years ago a young man from a Sikh background, Sukh-want Singh Bhatia, attended Dallas Seminary. He was the first Sikh ever to attend that school. He came from the Punjab in India. After his conversion, he knew he needed to give up his Sikh identity by cutting his hair and beard, which had never been cut since his birth. After it was cut he says, “I was so afraid of the consequences because everyone would know what was in my heart.”

Sukhwant’s village expelled him. His father allowed him to visit the family twice a year with the oath that he would not mention his faith. Because of his conversion, his family is considered cursed by the community and has been cut off even from relatives. Two of his sisters converted to Christianity when they saw the change in Sukhwant. They were allowed to remain at home, but Sukhwant had to pay for their education. Today he is a pastor in New Delhi.

Most of us will not face that kind of family opposition to follow Christ. But even those from Christian homes sometimes face subtle or not-so-subtle pressure not to follow Christ fully. Sometimes parents want their children to get well-paying jobs (which excludes most Christian service). Some parents don’t want their children to go to the mission field, because they want them and the grandchildren nearby. But the Lord makes it clear: If it comes to love for Him versus love for family, we must follow Him.

God’s call often entails other difficulties. Remember, by God’s call, I’m not referring to some special call for service that comes only to a few. I’m referring to God’s call to salvation which comes to every believer. It may result in rejection or persecution. It will involve bringing all your possessions and money under His lordship. It requires obeying God’s Word when it’s much easier and brings more immediate pleasure to disobey. It means seeking God’s will rather than your own will in every decision.

(3) God’s call requires faith in God and His Word. The only way you can follow God’s call is by taking God at His Word. We’ll look more at this in our study of 12:4-9, but it is summed up in verse 4: “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him.” Abram believed what God said and acted on it. And, of course, God is always faithful to His Word of promise to those who believe and obey Him.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “It’s kind of scary to make a radical break from the world and to step out in faith, especially when you know you might encounter trials and hardships. How do you get such faith?”

The crucial thing with faith is not your faith, but the object of your faith. Note in our text, it was the Lord who called Abram. Note all the “I will’s” that the Lord affirms to Abram: “I will show you the land; I will make you a great nation; I will bless you; I will bless those who bless you; I will curse those who curse you.” This is the word of the eternal, living God, the Creator of heaven and earth! Can’t you trust Him?

The apostle John wrote (1 John 5:9-12),

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

John is pointing out the obvious: We put our faith in sinful men every day. When you ate breakfast this morning, you trusted that the people who processed your food didn’t inject poison into it. When you drove your car, you trusted that the mechanic fixed the brakes properly. When you go to the bank and deposit your check, you trust that the teller isn’t going to take your money and abscond to Tahiti.

If you can trust such sinful people every day on things that greatly affect your life, can’t you trust in the word of the living God, who has borne faithful witness concerning His Son? For over 4,000 years since Abram, God has been faithful to His covenant promises. So when He commands you to repent and believe the gospel, in spite of the difficulties you will encounter, you can trust Him because He promises repeatedly, “I will be with you.” God’s call is always accompanied by ...

B. God’s Blessings.

When God calls us to Himself, He always supplies the grace we need to obey His call. As I said, with Abram’s call there are two commands, but there are six promises of blessings.

God’s first command is accompanied by three promises. First, God promised to make Abram into a great nation. That promise has been fulfilled (although not in Abram’s lifetime) in the Jewish nation, of which Abram is the father. Along with this, God told Abram (12:7) that He would give the land of Canaan to his descendants. Second, God promised to bless Abram. This refers both to temporal and spiritual well-being. Third, God promised to make Abram’s name great. That has certainly been fulfilled, in that Jews, Christians, and Moslems all look to Abraham as the father of their faith. His name is known worldwide to millions of people 4,000 years after he lived.

The second command is that Abram is to be a blessing. With this command are three more promises: First, God promises to bless those who bless Abram; and, second, to curse those who curse him. This refers not only to Abram, of course, but to Abram’s descendants. Anti-Semitism is dangerous business, because the person or nation which is against the Jews incurs God’s judgment. While God does not approve of any form of racial prejudice, He is especially against those who are against His chosen people, and He is especially favorable to those who favor His people. Both biblical and post-biblical history bear abundant witness to this fact.

God’s third promise connected with His second command is that in Abram, all the families of the earth will be blessed. This is a tremendous promise, fulfilled in the Savior, born of Abram’s lineage, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the greatest promises in the Bible--God’s promise of a Savior for all nations (or people-groups). Apart from Abram and his seed (Christ), we who are Gentiles would have no hope. The apostle Paul referred to this verse in Galatians 3:8: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel before-hand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you.’” And so here we have the good news, that Jesus Christ would be born to Abraham’s descendants, and that He would save us from our sins through faith.

When God calls a person, He always gives far more than He requires. God required Abram to go forth from his country and family, but He repeatedly affirms His promises to Abram with the words, “I will ... I will ....” If the command is to leave everything to follow Jesus, the promise is, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). All you spend in responding to God’s call, He will repay and then some.

Remember, while God gives us many blessings in this life, the main blessing is in eternity. Abram died without seeing most of these promises fulfilled. But he knew that God would make good on His Word. Abram was living for eternity, “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). If you’re living for this fleeting life alone, you should not become a Christian. As Paul put it, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). But if God is the eternal God, then the hardships we encounter in following Him cannot compare to the glory that will follow (2 Cor. 4:17). So that is our great privilege, that God calls us to salvation in order to bless us. But we must not stop there:

2. Our great responsibility: God calls us to make us a blessing to all the nations.

“I will bless you ... and so you shall be a blessing.” As I said, this is ultimately fulfilled in Abram’s descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, Abram becomes the greatest blessing anyone could be to this lost world. Since, by faith in Christ, we are Abraham’s heirs, blessed with Abraham the believer (Gal. 3:7, 9), we are under obligation not to bottle up the promise, but to take it to every people group on this earth. This is our Lord’s Great Commission, to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). If you have received the blessings of God’s salvation, you are under the responsibility to do all you can to be the channel of that blessing to those who have not heard.

The Book of 2 Kings records how Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, was under siege from Benhadad, the king of Aram. Things were so bad in the city that two women had to resort to eating one of their sons to survive. There were four lepers who sat at the city gate, begging for their food. Hard times are especially hard for beggars, and they were about to die. They finally concluded, “If we stay here, we’ll die of famine. If we go over to the enemy camp, maybe they’ll spare us. If not, we’ll just die anyway.” So they went over to the enemy camp.

To their surprise they discovered the camp deserted. God had struck fear in the soldiers’ hearts that made them run for their lives, leaving all their belongings behind. These beggars were suddenly rich. They ate the good food, they put on the nice clothes they found, they filled their pockets and their bags with all the gold and silver they could carry. But then they were struck with guilt. They said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent” (2 Kings 7:9). So they went and reported it in Samaria and shared their blessings with them.


God has called us to Himself and given us abundant blessings. But if we keep it to ourselves, we are not doing right. To bottle up God’s blessings for ourselves is to fall into the rampant selfism of our sinful culture. If your heart is not in evangelism and missions, if you’re not burdened for the lost, if you’re not investing the material blessings God has entrusted to you in the work of His kingdom, then you’ve gotten caught up with American selfism. God calls us in salvation and blesses us so that we can be a blessing. We must set our focus on taking the good news of His salvation to all the nations.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are evangelism and missions only for those so gifted, or are they the responsibility of every believer?
  2. Is it wrong to present the gospel from the standpoint of, “What’s in it for you?” Why/why not?
  3. Agree/disagree: If you’re into this life only, you should not become a Christian. Give supporting Scripture.
  4. How can we reconcile a life of hardship and trials with God’s blessing? Can the two co-exist? (See 2 Cor. 11:22-33.)

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Election, Predestination, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 26: Obedient Faith (Genesis 12:4-9)

Related Media

Editor's Note: This lesson does not have an accompanying audio file.

One of the battles currently being waged in evangelical circles concerns the nature of saving faith. On the one hand are those who claim that if a person professes to believe in Christ as Savior, he is saved. There does not need to be any (or at least very little) confirming evidence in his life that his faith was genuine. According to this view, he could later become an atheist, but if he had previously professed faith in Christ, he is eternally saved.

The other side argues that we are saved by faith alone, but that such faith, if it is genuine, inevitably produces a life of growth in godliness. If a person professes to believe, but there is scant evidence in his life, his faith is not genuine. True saving faith produces good works. I believe that this is the clear teaching of Scripture. The debate is not inconsequential, since it concerns the heart of the gospel message.

In October, 1990, James Dobson in his monthly newsletter, was encouraged by a recent Gallup poll that indicated that 74 percent of Americans had made a personal commitment to Christ, up from 66 percent in 1988 and 60 percent in 1978. Dobson stated that even if only half of these are what may be considered valid spiritual commitments, the number was still encouraging.

I find it discouraging! In light of our social and moral decay, the numbers show that the gospel has become so watered down in our day that Americans have no idea what saving faith in Jesus Christ means. Can you imagine how different our country would be if only 25 percent, let alone 74 percent, of Americans were truly born again? Our entire society, beginning at the family level, would be transformed as people began to live in obedience to God’s Word. Churches would be standing room only every Sunday. Missionaries would be going out in droves, all fully supported by the generosity of God’s people.

During the First Great Awakening, in which thousands were truly converted under the preaching of men like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, who was not converted, but who was impressed with the change Whitefield’s preaching brought on society, wrote, “It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.” In our day, the high numbers professing to believe in Christ with no resulting change in behavior reflect a major problem, that there are droves of Americans who think they’re saved, but they are not.

Since eternity is riding on the matter, it’s crucial to understand what true biblical faith is. I often shudder at Jesus’s words, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23.) How awful to hear those words! Here are people who not only claimed to be believers, they served the Lord. Even more, they performed works of power in His name. They thought they knew Him. But He didn’t know them. To make sure we don’t hear those words when we stand before the Lord, we must be clear on what the Bible teaches about saving faith, namely, that saving faith is obedient faith.

Obedient faith hears God’s Word and acts upon it.

The life of Abraham, our father in the faith (Rom. 4:16), teaches this. When God told Abram to go forth from his country to the land He would show him, we read, “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him” (Gen. 12:4). Abram heard what God said and acted upon it. That’s biblical faith.

But right away we’re presented with a question, because the rest of the sentence reads, “and Lot went with him.” Lot was Abram’s nephew (Gen. 11:27). But God’s command to Abram was to go forth from his relatives (12:1). Did Abram only obey partially, which is not true obedience at all? It could be that Abram’s faith was weak and his obedience only partial at this point. It is not until Genesis 15:6 that we read that Abram “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” But on the other hand, Hebrews 11:8 states, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” So this seems to be the beginning point of Abram’s faith. And Genesis 12:4 does say that he went out “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

So I interpret the Lord’s command to Abram to leave his relatives to mean that he must obey the Lord in spite of what his relatives may do. If they could be persuaded to accompany him, that was fine. But if they would not go, Abram must go without them. It is similar to the Lord’s teaching that when it comes down to a choice between family and Christ, we must follow Christ (Luke 14:26). In Abram’s case, Lot was persuaded to accompany him. The rest stayed behind. But the important thing is, Abram heard and obeyed the Lord. “By faith Abraham ... obeyed” (Heb. 11:8).

1. Obedient faith hears God’s Word.

In verse 1 we read, “the Lord said”; in verse 4 we read that Abram went forth “as the Lord had spoken to him.” Before you can respond in obedient faith to the Lord you’ve got to hear what He is saying. In other words, faith is not some vague leap in the dark. It is an obedient response to God’s Word.

In Abram’s day, before the Bible was written, God often spoke to people in an audible voice. Sometimes the Lord also appeared in human form (a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ) and spoke to Abram as man to man (12:7; 18:1). While God is not limited and is able to speak to people today in an audible voice, or to appear to them, it is extremely rare. I have never had such an experience. I get a bit nervous with people who are always claiming, “The Lord told me ....” Usually they are living by faith in their feelings, not in the Lord.

So, how does God speak to us today? The book of Hebrews begins, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1, 2). All of God’s revelation to us is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ. He is God’s Word to us (John 1:1). And how do we learn of Christ? Jesus said that the Scriptures testify of Him (John 5:39; Luke 24:27). The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and His Son.

In addition to the Word, the Lord has given us His Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and applies it to our hearts as we yield to Him and wait on Him (John 14:26; 16:13- 15; 1 Cor. 2:7-13). Most of the guidance you will ever need is contained in the Bible. You need wisdom from the Holy Spirit to apply it in various situations. But, if you’re not assimilating God’s Word into your thinking, the Holy Spirit cannot properly guide you. The Holy Spirit works through and in accordance with God’s Word.

Years ago a friend who often said, “The Lord told me,” said to me that the Lord had told him to divorce his wife. I grant that she was a difficult woman to live with. She would lock him out of the house and she treated him badly. On this occasion he told me that he had prayed about it and felt a peace that divorcing her was of the Lord. It took me about three hours to convince him that his peace was not from God, but rather it was the relief that comes from escaping a difficult situation. God’s Word is clear that God hates divorce. The Spirit of God will not tell you to do something contrary to the Word of God.

On the other hand, it’s possible to have God’s Word in our heads, but not to be sensitive to God’s Spirit to apply the Word in specific situations. We hear, but we don’t hear. In Dallas Marla and I lived next to a four-lane freeway. We got so used to the noise that if we woke up on Sunday at 3 a.m., when there would be only one car every 15 or 20 seconds, it seemed strange to have it so quiet. We “heard” the cars constantly, but we really didn’t hear them. We blocked out the noise.

Spiritually we often do the same thing. We develop the capacity to block out the Word from certain areas of our lives. We read it, or hear it preached, but we don’t really hear it. Often we don’t want to hear it, because it reveals major changes that need to take place in our lives. That’s why as Jesus taught He often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”; or, “take care how you listen” (Luke 8:8, 18). Abram heard God’s word to him. Obedient faith hears God’s Word with a willingness to yield to the Lord in areas where we need to change.

2. Obedient faith acts on God’s Word.

We read (12:5), “and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.” We can read those words easily enough and assume that it was no big deal for Abram to act on what God told him to do. But, as I mentioned last week, it wasn’t easy. But Abram did what God told him to do.

Two dominant themes emerge from verses 6-9, both of which illustrate the life of obedient faith. The first theme is “Abram the pilgrim.” We see it in 12:6, “Abram passed through the land.” It is repeated in 12:8, “he proceeded from there ... and pitched his tent.” A tent is not a permanent dwelling. It is again seen in 12:9, “Abram journeyed on ....” Here is a man on the move with no permanent roots, a man on a pilgrimage.

The second theme is “Abram the worshiper and witness.” We see it in 12:7, when he builds an altar to the Lord who had appeared unto him. In 12:8 the impermanent “pitched his tent” is set against the more permanent, “built an altar.” Abram the pilgrim, moving with his tent, didn’t leave anything permanent for himself; but Abram the worshiper, after he had moved on, left behind altars unto the Lord, altars which bore witness to the pagan Canaanites in the land. Abram the worshiper bore witness to the strength behind his obedient faith by calling upon the name of the Lord (12:8). Let’s apply these two themes:

A. Obedient faith means living as pilgrims.

A pilgrim is a person on a journey. He is not a settled resident. He’s just passing through, on his way to a better place. God did not promise to give the land to Abram, but to his descendants. As John Calvin points out (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 1:353), this means that the land was not his ultimate aim, but rather, heaven. Abram was looking for that city whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10). He had to trust that God would make good on His word even though Abram would not live to see it.

That’s what we’re called to as Christians. We’re not of this world. We are not to love the things of this world. We’re just passing through. Our destination is heaven. As Paul said, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). When we encounter any hardships, we have to trust that God’s promises about heaven are a sure thing. The pilgrim life means that we obey God whatever the hardships, knowing that our reward is in heaven. If we obey, like Abram, we’ll have the Lord’s presence and His promises of a glorious future, even if we never in our lifetime receive those promises.

The pilgrim life is often a difficult life, but obedient faith keeps on believing and obeying in spite of the hardships. Let me review some of the difficulties Abram faced in obeying God. He was 75 when he departed from Haran (12:4). While 75 in Abram’s day was a lot younger than it is in our day, he wasn’t a youth. He was married and had accumulated a number of possessions and servants (12:5). If moving with U-Haul is a hassle now, it was much harder then. It meant leaving a city and going across a desert to an uncertain location. There were bands of robbers and many other dangers along the way. He didn’t know anything about Canaan before he set out. There wasn’t an empty house waiting for them to move into.

No doubt Abram faced opposition from his family and friends. Knowing what we do of Sarah’s personality, it’s likely that she complained and even cried about the move. It’s often hard on a wife to leave family and friends and to move to an unfamiliar place. Abram’s older brother, Nahor, was living in Haran (Gen. 24:10; 27:43). I can hear him asking, “Now where is it you’re going, Abram?” “I’m not sure. God told me to head for Canaan.” “Canaan! Don’t you know that there’s nothing but desert between here and there? If you all don’t die of thirst, the robbers will get you! Are you crazy?” “But God has told me to go, and I must obey Him. He will take care of us.”

“But what more could you ask for than what you have here in Haran? You’ve got plenty of land, a nice house, servants, livestock, family, friends. What could you possibly gain by going to Canaan? And have you heard about the Canaanites? Those people sacrifice their children to their gods. They have sexual orgies at their temples. That’s not a healthy environment to raise a family, Abram.” But, in spite of all the hassles, the objections, the obstacles, and the risks, Abram obeyed God without excuses or protest. Obedient faith hears God’s Word and acts on it.

So Abram obeyed God and lived happily ever after in a comfortable home in the land of Canaan. Is that what we read? No, we read that “the Canaanite was then in the land” (12:7). In verse 10 we read of something else in the land: a famine! What a welcome wagon: the Canaanites and a famine! Is that how God rewards those who hear His Word and act on it?

Yes, it often is. Moses obeyed God by going back to Egypt to lead His people out of captivity. What happened? Did Pharaoh say, “Have a good trip!”? Hardly. Did the Israelites say, “We’d love to follow you out into the wilderness, no matter how hard it is”? Not quite. Finally they left Egypt after God had inflicted the plagues on the Egyptians and parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh’s army. Did Israel then find a beautiful garden spot to camp? “They went three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Exod. 15:22). A slight problem for two million people in the Sinai peninsula!

Every time I’ve obeyed God by moving to a new situation, I’ve encountered trials. When Marla and I moved to Dallas so that I could finish seminary, we were caught in a blizzard in southern New Mexico on the way. We got there and couldn’t find an apartment. We finally found one and were promptly mugged and I ended up with four stitches in my hand from the gun sight as it was ripped out of my hand. Other moves haven’t been that traumatic, but every time I’ve faced difficult trials in one form or another. Where did we ever get the idea that if we trust and obey God all our problems will evaporate? It’s certainly not in the Bible. Quite often when we start obeying God we have troubles we never dreamed of having before.

From this time on, Abram lived as a nomad in a tent, not in a house. He never owned a single piece of Canaan, except for the burial plot he bought for his wife. The only thing of permanence he left behind were some altars. That points to our other theme:

B. Obedient faith means living as worshipers and witnesses.

The tent shows him to be a pilgrim; the altar shows him to be a worshiper and a witness, claiming the land for God and His purposes. He built the first one at the oak of Moreh. It is possible that this was the spot of a heathen shrine. There Abram erected his altar to the living God and bore witness to the godless Canaanites. When Abram “called on the name of the Lord” (12:8), it means that he openly acknowledged his trust in God as his strength and provider. He was raising the banner of the Lord’s name in a pagan land, declaring Him to be the only true God.

No doubt the pagans would have watched Abram curiously and asked, “Where is the god you’re sacrificing to? We don’t see any statues or images.” “No, my God is the living and true God, maker of heaven and earth. He cannot be represented by any man-made images.” Perhaps Abram bore witness to them of how we cannot approach the holy God without the shedding of blood. Perhaps he told them of God’s judgment during Noah’s day and warned them of judgment if they did not turn to God.

As far as we know, the Canaanites for the most part, ignored Abram and continued in their wicked ways. In His great mercy, God spared those wicked people for 700 more years until Joshua’s day. But Abram the worshiper had borne witness to them. God will use those who live as pilgrims and worshipers in the midst of a pagan land to bear witness for Him. Some will be saved; some will mock or ignore the message. But God will use the witness of His pilgrims at the day of judgment to vindicate His justice.


A gray-haired old lady, long a member of her church, shook hands with the pastor after the Sunday morning service. “That was a wonderful sermon,” she told him, “just wonderful. Everything you said applies to someone I know.”

Obedient faith hears what God’s Word is saying to me, and it responds with appropriate action. It begins with hearing the gospel, that salvation is not by my merit or good deeds, but rather that salvation is from the Lord. He has provided everything to reconcile sinners with Himself. Repenting of my pride and disobedience and abandoning all trust in myself, I cast myself completely upon Christ. Such saving faith results in a new life in which I obey God in response to His great love for me.

Obedient faith goes on growing by searching God’s Word and allowing it to search me. When God puts His finger on an area of sin, obedient faith responds, even if it is difficult or inconvenient. Obedient faith lets go of this evil world and begins a pilgrimage toward heaven. It worships God by calling upon Him and it bears witness of God to this pagan world. Wherever God is speaking to you, hear what He’s saying and act on it. That’s obedient faith. Without such faith, it is impossible to please the Lord.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we tell if faith is genuine? What evidence is needed?
  2. Discuss the statement, “If Christ is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” Is it biblically sound?
  3. How can we keep our hearts sensitive to God’s Word?
  4. How can we live as pilgrims and keep ourselves free from loving the things of this world? What does this mean practically?

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Discipleship, Faith